New Testament Parallels
Works of Josephus
G. J. Goldberg
Index to the Parallels
The New Testament makes references
to rulers, priests, religious factions, and politics that would be completely
mysterious to modern readers if it were not for the works of Josephus.
When one reads discussions about the historical Jesus and the early days
of Christianity, most of the Judean social background and the dating of
events derive from his books.
In this article I present a list of these
New Testament references and place them next to extracts from the works
of Josephus on the same subject. To these I have added my own comments,
which I hope the reader will find useful.
Interested readers will want to study Josephus themselves
for fuller extracts. They will also want to read some of the many scholarly
works on this subject. An excellent place to start is Steve Mason's
Josephus and the New Testament, which discusses more fully the parallels
and provides many original observations and analyses.
The Gospel of Luke/The Book of Acts
It is Luke's writings, both the Gospel and
the Book of Acts, that have the most points of contact with Josephus, particularly
the Antiquities. Most notable are the numerous references in Luke to events
and persons that are also discussed, and are explained more fully, by Josephus.
Luke is clearly concerned with embedding the story of Jesus in a firm historical
context, thus helping not only to date the story but also to persuade the
reader of its genuineness.
More subtly, the vocabulary of Luke/Acts bears a
greater resemblance to Josephus than does any other work in the New Testament
(as Steve Mason once pointed out). A study of each author's style seems
to indicate that they at least learned Greek from teachers with similar
These connections have raised some possibilities
that have been the focus of much attention by scholars. The weightiest
question has been, did Luke read Josephus' Antiquities and use it as the
basis for the historical references in his work? Did Luke, perhaps, even
know Josephus in Rome, as Thackeray suggested? But there are discrepancies
between Luke and Josephus -- particularly
of Quirinius -- which suggest Luke used a different source. Was
he perhaps genuinely handing down the traditions of some of those who knew
And the similarities of language -- do they imply
the two authors wrote in a similar place at a similar time?
The answer to these questions would help to tell
us how and when Luke composed his works. If Luke read Josephus' Antiquities,
he could not have written his gospel before the 80's CE, when the Antiquities
was a work in progress, or the early 90's, when it was published.
The same conclusion can be drawn from language similarities. This happens
to agree with the dating of Luke most often surmised by scholars; but some
think he wrote much earlier, in the 50's and 60's for Acts and perhaps
much earlier for the gospel, while others argue that Luke is a very late
writer, circa 120 CE.
A reliance on the Antiquities would suggest also
that Luke's gospel is not constructed solely of authenticate reports about
Jesus from the apostles and others who knew him. It would mean Luke combined
some information from original Christian sources with other materials.
It would thus be left to readers to determine which is which.
For information on how Josephus is referenced and translated in these
pages, see the note. The New Testament verses
follow the translation of the New Revised Standard Version..
In the days of King Herod of Judea...
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born
in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,
"Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?"
191 (War 1.31.8 665)
these things he died, on the fifth day after having his son Antipater killed,
having reigned since he had slain Antigonus thirty-four years, and thirty-seven
years since he had been declared king by the Romans.
From this reference in Josephus
we know that Herod the Great died in 4
Herod's reign began under appointment by Marc Antony in 40 BCE, a date
known from Antiquities 14.14.4 386: "So did Herod take the throne, receiving
it in the hundred and eight-fourth Olympiad, the consuls being Gnaeus Domitius
Calvinus, for the second time, and Gaius Asinius Pollio." The event is
also described by Roman historians. Properly taking into account Josephus'
use of partial years when subtracting his stated 37 years gives 4 BCE for
the end of Herod's reign (see the note to War 1.665 in the Loeb Edition).
according to Matthew and Luke, Jesus could not have been born later than
4 BCE. Yet our calendar is numbered taking the year 1 A.D. (= 1 CE) as
the year of Jesus' birth, leading to the puzzle of Jesus having been born
in 4 B.C., 4 years "Before Christ". This is due to a mistake in
calculation by the Roman abbot
Exiguus in 533, who first began counting years from Jesus' birth. (some
say he did not count the first four years of Emperor Augustus, who used
his original name of Octavian during this time). As a practical matter,
it is worth noting that our calendar does not in fact count from the birth
year of Jesus, which is unknown, but from the death year of Herod.
The Slaughter of the Innocents
...wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,
"Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed
his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod
heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling
together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of
them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In the Bethlehem
of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet..."
...When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the
wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in
and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the
time that he had learned from the wise men.
Antiquities 17.2.4 43 (Speculative)
Now there was a certain sect of Jews
who valued themselves highly for the skill they had in the ways of their
fathers and who believed they best observed the laws favored by God --
the sect called the Pharisees -- by whom the women of the palace
were guided. They were fully able to deal successfully with the king due
to their prescience, but often fell into fighting and setting up obstacles
For example, when all the Jewish people pledged
their loyalty to Caesar and to the king's government, these men, over six
thousand of them, refused to swear; and when the king therefore imposed
a fine on them, the wife of Pheroras [the king's brother] paid it. Now
to repay this kindness of hers, being believed to have, by Divine inspiration,
the foreknowledge of things to come, they foretold that God had decreed
that Herod's government would be taken from him and from his descendants,
and that the kingdom would come to her and Pheroras and to their children.
These predictions, which did not escape detection
by Salome [the king's sister], were reported to the king, and also that
they had subverted some others of the palace. So the king killed those
of the Pharisees principally involved, as well as Bagoas the eunuch,
and a certain Karos, who exceeded all of his peers in beauty and was his
favorite boy. He also killed everyone of his own house who had allied
themselves to the talk of the Pharisees. Bagoas had been elated by their
prediction that he would be hailed as the father and the benefactor of
the one who would be their appointed king; for to this king would fall
power over all things, and he would provide Bagoas with a marriage and
the ability to sire children of his own line.
There is no story in Josephus
matching the nativity stories of Luke and Matthew. But the passage quoted
above has some interesting similarities. Here we have wise men, believed
to have the gift of prophecy, predicting the next king will end Herod's
reign, frightening Herod into committing mass murder. The new king will
have "the power over all things." There would be a miraculous birth
by someone for whom it is impossible to have children -- in the gospels,
the virgin Mary, in the above tale, the eunuch Bagoas.
The story demonstrates at
the least that the actions of Herod and the other people in the nativity
story was not unheard of for the time, so that something of the sort might
have occurred but escaped Josephus' notice. Or, the above story itself
might have served as the nucleus of a tale that was elaborated over the
years and applied to Jesus by his followers.
Incidentally, in Antiquities
17.6.5 174 there is described a forced mass movement of people just before
Herod's death. These people the king had planned to have these murdered
so the Jews would be mourning when he died, rather than holding joyful
festivities to celebrate his passing. This movement could conceivably have
contributed both to the story of the slaughter of the innocents and the
census of Quirinius (see below).
But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling
over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.
Ant. 17.8.1 188
Then because of the change of mind Herod had undergone,
he once more altered his will and designated Antipas, to whom he
had previously left his throne, to be Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, while
he bestowed the kingdom on Archelaus.
The Census of Quirinius
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus
that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration
and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their
own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth
in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem.
Antiquities 18.1.1 1
Quirinius, a Roman senator who had
passed through all the other magistracies until he became consul, and one
who in other respects was very distinguished, came at this time into Syria,
with a few others, having been sent by Caesar to be governor of that nation
and to make an assessment of their property. Coponius, a man of the equestrian
order, was sent with him to have supreme authority over the Jews. Quirinius
came himself to Judea, which had now been added to the province of Syria,
to make an assessment of their property and to dispose of Archelaus's estate.
Although the Jews at first took the report of a taxation angrily, they
gradually left off any further opposition to it by the persuasion
of the high priest Joazar son of Boethus. Persuaded by Joazar's words,
they gave an account of their estates without any dissent.
But there was one man, Judas, a Gaulanite
from a city named Gamala, who, taking with him Saddok, a Pharisee, became
zealous to draw them to revolt. They both said that this taxation was no
better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert
The discrepancy between
Luke and Josephus on this famous registration, or assessment, has caused
many scholarly attempts to reconcile the two. None of these attempts have
been accepted as successful. Josephus' story, which is supported by various
evidence in Roman historians, clearly places Quirinius' beginning tenure
and assessment in 6 CE, ten years after the death of Herod the Great. Yet
Luke places this event during the time of Herod. From everything we know,
Luke is mistaken.
Then where did Luke find this
story? The theory that Luke used Josephus for historical events has difficulty
dealing with this discrepancy. Thus it is either proof that Luke worked
from a poor summary, or preliminary version, of the Antiquities, or that
he had a separate source, possibly an oral tradition among some of the
Jesus followers who were not consulted by the other gospel writers.
There is also a peculiar way
to look at this story (original with myself, for good or ill). The census
of Quirinius was the immediate cause of the rise of Judas the Galilean
and the Fourth Philosophy. This philosophy would, sixty years later, lead
to the war with Rome that would destroy the Temple and weaken the attraction
of Judaism that many non-Jews had throughout the empire. It also contributed
to the suspicion the authorities had of popular leaders, particular those
with new philosophies and origins in Galilee, and so quite likely was an
important factor in Jesus' arrest. In seom sense, then, the census of Quirinius
gave birth to the "spirit of the revolution" and the destruction of the
Temple. Could it be that certain revolutionaries saw Jesus as their hoped-for
leader, and even after his death felt he was the mystical embodiment of
the spirit of the revolution? Then the association of Jesus' birth with
the birth of the Fourth Philosophy would have come naturally to this strand
of the Jesus followers.
For the complete history of
Judas the Galilean, see
the War Against Rome.
Jesus at Twelve
[Noted by GG]
And when he was twelve years old, they went up as
usual for the festival [of Passover]....After three days they found him
in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking
them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding
and his answers.
Josephus' Life 1.2 8 (speculative)
I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of
my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding.
Moreover, when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended
by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests
and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order
to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law.
This parallel is one I have
not seen pointed out before. Both passages probably refer to a demonstration
of a boy's learning around the time of his bar mitzvah, which in modern
traditional takes place when he turns thirteen; here Josephus speaks of
"about fourteen years of age" and Jesus is said to be twelve (thus going
on thirteen). So both passages may simply be conventional boasts drawn
from the memories of the proud Jewish parents.
But there is an odder similarity:
both passages imply that the scholars of Jerusalem actually learned things
from the boys! This is an extraordinary boast. Was this also part of traditional
bar mitzvah kvelling of the time?
Any readers who have an explanation
for this -- please let me know.
The Fifteenth Year of Tiberius: Pilate, Herod,
Philip, "Lysanius", Annas, and Caiaphas
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor
Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch
of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and
Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood
of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in
Antiquities 18.2.2 35
Tiberius sent Gratus to be procurator of Judea..This man deprived Ananus
of the high priesthood, and appointed Ismael...
...Joseph called Caiaphus was made his successor.
When Gratus had done those things, he went back to Rome, having tarried
in Judea eleven years, and Pontius Pilate came as his successor.
War 2.6.3 94 (Ant. 17.11.4 318)
Caesar...gave one-half of Herod's kingdom to Archelaus with the title
of Ethnarch, and promised to make him king also afterward, if he rendered
himself worthy of that dignity. But he divided the other half into two
tetrarchies, and gave them to two other sons of Herod, the one of them
to Philip, and the other to that Antipas who contested the kingdom with
Archelaus. Placed under Antipas were Perea and Galilee, with a revenue
of two hundred talents. Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, and certain
parts of Zeno's house about Jamnia, providing a revenue of 100 talents,
were made subject to Philip.
Antiquities 20.7.1 137
Claudius bestowed upon Agrippa...Abila, which had been the tetrarchy
These establish the year of
the appearance of John the Baptist, and hence of the subsequent public
career of Jesus. The 15th year of Tiberius was 28/29, as he reigned for
22 years and some 5 or 6 months, from 14-37. Pontius Pilate was procurator
from 26-36, and Caiaphas was high priest over almost the same period, 26-35.
Herod Antipas ruled Galilee from 4 BCE to 40 CE, and Philip his assortment
of lands from 4 BCE to 34 CE.
As to "Lysanius", Luke is
at variance with Josephus.Lysanius was killed by Marc Antony during the
reign of Herod the Great. The small territory of Lysanius was leased by
Zenodorus (or "Zeno", War 1.20.4 398), and was later given by Caesar to
Philip, as quoted above in one of the passages. After Philip's death this
little region that had belonged to Lysanius, along with other pieces of
Philip's territory, was given to Agrippa by the Emperor Claudius
circa 40 CE (also cited above).
This little territory never
had a name; it was just referred to familiarly, something like "that piece
of land that used to belong to Lysanius." This is the only way Josephus
refers to the property throughout his works. There is no evidence of a
ruler named Lysanius at the time Luke speaks about. In any case, the land
is two small for anyone to bother identifying its ruler as a means of specifying
a moment in history.
Two explanations present themselves.
The more interesting of these is that Luke worked from a written source
he did not quite understand; he could have read about the time "when Herod
was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea, and Trachonitis, and Abilene the tetrarchy of Lysanius."
He could have misinterpreted the last clause as identifying another ruler
of the time, rather than continuing the list of Philip's lands; particularly
if the grammar had become a little garbled in transmission, perhaps during
translation from the Aramaic. This would indicate Luke did not know enough
about Judea to recognize that the "tetrarchy of Lysanius" was the
way the local inhabitants referred to a little piece of land.
The second, more mundane explanation
is that Luke originally wrote the the version we just surmised, but his
text has become slightly corrupted during transmission to us.
John the Baptist
3:3, Lk 3:19, Mk 6:17-29, Matt. 14:1-12
Antiquities 18.5.2, 18.5.3 136
John the Baptist page for the
extracts and discussion.
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."
Lk 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
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
There are many references to Pharisees both in the New Testament and in
Josephus, as well as in the Talmud.
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, Lk 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 11:43.)
Lk 20:27 (Mk 12:18, Matt. 22:23; see also Acts 5:17, Acts
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no
resurrection, came to him and asked him a question.
Antiquities 18.2.4 16-17 (see also War2.8.14
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
Matt. 10:5-14 (Mark 6:11, Luke
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 Ant.18.2.5
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 defense 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 any 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 Samaritans.
The Samaritans had their own
Bible 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 CE.
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," lêistês,
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 (Ant. 20.8.5 161).
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
Mark 15:27/Matthew 27:38 ( Lk 23:32)
And they crucified two robbers with him, one on
the right, and one on the left.
Antiquities 18.3.2 60-62 (War 2.9.4 175-177) (speculative)
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 insurrection
The gospels agree that Jesus
was crucified along with two thieves; the Greek word for "thieves" used
by Mark and Matthew is liêstai (singular lêistês),
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
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 (see
Causes of the War Against Rome). It's a good possibility, then, that
in any insurrection, Galileans were involved.
For more on Pilate, see the
Render Unto Caesar
Mark 12:13-17 (Matt. 22:15-22, Lk 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
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.
For more details on the Fourth
The Causes of the War with Rome.
Antiquities 18.3.3 63-64
For the quotations and discussion, see
Account of Jesus.
James the Brother of Jesus
Matt. 13:55 / Mk. 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?
But I did not see any other apostle except James
the Lord's brother.
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)
The death of James does not
appear in the New Testament. The events described by Josephus occurred
about 62 CE, 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 CE.
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 completed
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. See the
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