Joseph Atwill is one of those crank mythers I often get conflated with. Mythicists like him make the job of serious scholars like me so much harder, because people see, hear, or read them and think their nonsense is what mythicism is. They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.
Note that I have divided this article into two parts, the second (titled “Our Long Conversation”) is something you can easily skip (see the intro there for whether reading it will be of any interest to you). So although this post looks extraordinarily long, it’s really that second part that gives it such length. You can just read up to the beginning of that section though. You don’t have to continue beyond that to get the overall point.
Atwill is the one dude I get asked about most often.[*] And now apparently even Dawkins is tweeting about Atwill, thanks to his upcoming venture into England later this month to sell his weird Roman Conspiracy variety of Jesus mythicism. To get the gist you can check out his PR puff piece. Thomas Verenna has already written a deconstruction of that. Notably even Acharya S (D.M. Murdock) doesn’t buy Atwill’s thesis, declaring that she does “not concur with Atwill’s Josephus/Flavian thesis” and that “the Flavians, including Josephus, did not compose the canonical gospels as we have them.” Robert Price has similarly soundly debunked his book, even after strongly wanting to like it.
Atwill is best known as the author of Caesar’s Messiah (subtitle: “The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus,” Roman meaning the Roman imperial family…yeah). In this Atwill argues “Jesus [is] the invention of a Roman emperor” and that the entire (?) New Testament was written by “the first-century historian Flavius Josephus” who left clues to his scheme by littering secret hidden coded “parallels” in his book The Jewish War. Atwill claims to prove “the Romans directed the writing of both” the JW and the NT, in order “to offer a vision of a ‘peaceful Messiah’ who would serve as an alternative to the revolutionary leaders who were rocking first-century Israel and threatening Rome,” and also (apparently) as a laughing joke on the Jews (Atwill variously admits or denies he argues the latter, but it became clear in our correspondence, which I will reproduce below…it’s weird because making fun of the Jews kind of contradicts the supposedly serious aim of persuading the Jews, yet Atwill seems to want the imperial goal to have simultaneously been both).
Notice his theory entails a massive and weirdly erudite conspiracy of truly bizarre scope and pedigree, to achieve a truly Quixotic aim that hardly makes sense coming from any half-intelligent elite of the era (even after adjusting for the Flynn effect), all to posit that the entire Christian religion was created by the Romans (and then immediately opposed by it?), who somehow got hundreds of Jews (?) to abandon their religion and join a cult that simply appeared suddenly without explanation on the Palestinian (?) book market without endorsement.
I honestly shouldn’t have to explain why this is absurd. But I’ll hit some highlights. Then I’ll reveal the reasons why I think Atwill is a total crank, and his work should be ignored, indeed everywhere warned against as among the worst of mythicism, not representative of any serious argument that Jesus didn’t exist. And that’s coming from me, someone who believes Jesus didn’t exist.
Historically, Atwill’s thesis is more or less a retooled version of the old Pisonian Conspiracy Theory, by which is not meant the actual Pisonian conspiracy (to assassinate Nero), but a wildly fictitious one in which the Piso family invented Christianity (and fabricated all its documents) through its contacts with the Flavian family, and thence Josephus (who indeed adopted that family’s name when they made him a Roman citizen, after he had tricked his officer corps into committing suicide and then surrendered to the Romans during the War…oh, and conveniently declaring Vespasian the Messiah).
This pseudo-historical nonsense is over a century old by now, first having been proposed (in a somewhat different form) by Bruno Bauer in Christ and the Caesars in 1877 (Christus und Caesaren). It has been revamped a dozen times since. Atwill is simply the latest iteration (or almost–there is a bonkers Rabbi still going around with an even wilder version). Atwill’s is very much like Bible Code crankery, where he looks for all kinds of multiple comparisons fallacies and sees conspiracies in all of them, rather than the inevitable coincidences (or often outright non-correspondences) that they really are. Everything confirms his thesis, because nothing could ever fail to. Classic nonfalsifiability. He just cherry picks and interprets anything to fit, any way he wants.
Why the Priors Are Dismally Low on This
There are at least eight general problems with his thesis, which do not refute it but establish that it has a very low prior probability, and therefore requires exceptionally good evidence to be at all credible:
(1) The Roman aristocracy was nowhere near as clever as Atwill’s theory requires. They certainly were not so masterfully educated in the Jewish scriptures and theology that they could compose hundreds of pages of elegant passages based on it. And it is very unlikely they would ever conceive of a scheme like this, much less think they could succeed at it (even less, actually do so).
(2) We know there were over forty Gospels, yet the four chosen for the canon were not selected until well into the 2nd century, and not by anyone in the Roman aristocracy. Likewise which Epistles were selected.
(3) The Gospels and the Epistles all contradict each other far too much to have been composed with a systematic aim in mind. Indeed, they contradict each other in ways that often demonstrate they are deliberately arguing with each other. From the ways Matthew changes Mark; to the way the forged 2 Thessalonians actually tries to argue 1 Thessalonians is the forgery; to how the resurrections depicted in Luke and John are deliberate attempts to refute the doctrine of resurrection defended originally by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5; to how some Epistles insist on Torah observance while others insist it can be discarded; to how Luke’s nativity contradicts Matthew’s on almost every single particular (and not just in placing the event in completely different periods ten years apart); to how Acts blatantly contradicts Paul’s own account of his conversion and travels; to how John invents a real Lazarus to refute a point Luke tried to make with a fictional Lazarus; and so on. (I discuss some of these, and more, in my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus.)
(4) The Gospels and the Epistles differ far too much in style to have come from the same hand, and many show signs of later doctoring that would problematize attempts to confirm any theory like Atwill’s. For example, Mark 16:9-20, John 20 vs. 21, the hash job made of the epistle to the Romans, etc. Even the fact of how the canon was selected creates a problem for Atwill’s research requirements–for instance, the actual first letter to the Corinthians is completely missing, yet Paul refers to its existence in “our” 1 Corinthians.
(5) Christianity was probably constructed to “divert Jewish hostility and aggressiveness into a pacifist religion, supportive of–and subservient to–Roman rule,” but not by Romans, but exasperated Jews like Paul, who saw Jewish militarism as unacceptably disastrous in contrast with the obvious advantages of retooling their messianic expectations to produce the peaceful moral reform of society. The precedents were all there already in pre-Christian Jewish ideology and society (in Philo’s philosophy, in Essene and Qumranic efforts to solve the same problems, and so on) so we don’t have to posit super-genius Aryans helping the poor little angry Jews to calm down.
(6) Pacifying Jews would not have been possible with a cult that eliminated Jewish law and accepted Gentiles as equals, and in actual fact Christianity was pretty much a failure in Palestine. Its success was achieved mainly in the Diaspora, where the Romans rarely had any major problems with the Jews. The Jewish War was only fought in Palestine, and not even against all the Jews there (many sided with Rome). How would inventing a religion that would have no chance of succeeding in the heart of Palestine but instead was tailor made to succeed outside Palestine, ever help the Romans with anything they considered important?
(7) If the Roman elite’s aim was to “pacify” Palestinian Jews by inventing new scriptures, they were certainly smart and informed enough to know that that wouldn’t succeed by using the language the Judean elite despised as foreign (Greek).[*]
(8) The Romans knew one thing well: War. Social ideology they were never very good at.[*] That’s why Rome always had such problems keeping its empire together, and why social discontent and other malfunctions continued to escalate until the empire started dissolving. Rome expected to solve every problem militarily instead–and up until the 3rd century Rome did so quite well. The Jewish War was effectively over in just four years (any siege war was expected to take at least three, and Vespasian was actually busy conquering Rome in the fourth year of that War). So why would they think they needed any other solution?
With all that counting against Atwill, he has a very high burden to meet. And he just doesn’t. He actually has no evidence at all for his thesis, except “Bible Code”-style readings of coincidences among texts, which he seems only to read in English and not the original Greek, all the while relying on egregious fallacies in probabilistic reasoning.
Evidence? Or Insufferable Slurries of Bullshit and Denial?
I see no value in wasting any more time on his work (you’ll see why in a moment), but if anyone who is sensible nevertheless finds some claim in his book remarkably convincing–something so peculiar it seems like it could have no other explanation–and you are genuinely curious how a real historian would respond to it, then present that case to me in comments. Be fair to Atwill: give the page number(s), and all the evidence he presents, and correctly explain the argument (or ideally quote it directly).
To each sensible such presentation I’ll supply a response. But I won’t waste any further time debating it with anyone who doesn’t take facts and logic seriously. I fully expect this thread to be descended upon by armies of time-wasting cranks, possibly Atwill himself, and I refuse to let this suck away any more of my time and labor, on what I now know will be an inevitable getting of nowhere. So I am stating right now: I am done with arguing this crap. So if you don’t like what I have to say and refuse to listen to me, I will stop posting your comments. Period.
In other words, I will be enforcing my usual comments policy extremely strictly here. So the moment you start just gainsaying me or refusing to acknowledge facts or posting vast word-counts of undigestible rambling, you are done. Keep it one example at a time, concise, clear facts and logic, page number. Anything else in defense of Atwillian claims, and your comment goes straight to trash. The more so if you direct any abuse at anyone here. You can whine all you want elsewhere. Just listen to my little violin.
[But also note Item 1 in my comments policy, especially in light of the fact that I am about to depart for Sacramento Freethought Day, hence many comments will sit in the queue until possibly as late as Tuesday. So that delay doesn't mean your comment was nixed.]
His Best Evidence Is Just Offal
Here is a sample of what Atwill tried to present to me as his “best” examples of evidence supporting his thesis, and why they demonstrate we need waste no further time with him:
(1) Atwill offers “the mention of a fish called the ‘Coracin’ (JW 3, 10, 8, 520), which can be seen as a pun upon Jesus’ prophecy – ‘Woe to you Chorazain’ (Matt 11:23).” He means the korakinoi (KAPPA-omicron-rho-alpha-KAPPA-iota-nu…), the “the Alexandrian raven fish” (the word “fish” is not in the JW, but the appellation is understood by context).
But there is no parallel in the Greek letters or meaning between that word and the city of Chorazin (CHI-omicron-rho-alpha-ZETA-iota-nu…).None. So how is this a parallel? It isn’t. Besides being an example of evidence that doesn’t exist, this is also one of those instances that suggests Atwill does not know how to read Greek. A terrible failing for someone who is trying to perform complicated statistical literary analyses of linguistic parallels between, you know, Greek texts. (Incidentally, he also had the wrong verse–he meant Mt. 11:21–but I assume that was just a slip)
No one could possibly have imagined a pun being intended between these two words or references–except someone who reads only English, and that of course could not have been anyone back then! Moreover, to get a statistically significant result here you need more than one vaguely similar but completely different word. You need something like multiple exact matches of otherwise unusual words, or a series of otherwise unlikely coincidences of ordered events or concepts, or something along those lines (see Proving History, pp. 192-204, for how to conduct a methodologically sound study of literary parallels).
(2) Atwill says “The Sicarii’s ‘emanating’ from John’s head can also be seen, like the demons who came out of the demoniac in that they are a ‘legion’, as they are described as ‘too small for an army, and too many for a gang of thieves’ (JW 4, 7, 408), in other words, a legion. John is confirmed by Josephus later in the history as a source from which ‘wickedness emanated’ (JW 7, 8 263) – ‘John filled the entire country with ten thousand (legion) instances of wickedness’.”
This makes little sense. The word “legion” nowhere appears in these passages. And why does Atwill think “ten thousand” is somehow equivalent to “legion”? The words are nowhere near the same. And the standard complement in a legion was 6000 men (plus auxiliaries), not 10,000 (and of course legions were rarely at full strength).[*] The Gospels also do not say ten thousand, but “two thousand.” And why does Atwill think a legion is “too small for an army” when a legion was by definition an army? Clearly Atwill is struggling just as hard to invent a link here as a biblical literalist struggles to erase contradictions in the Bible.
Moreover, the swine are all killed, but the allegedly parallel soldiers in Josephus are not all killed. It’s also the wrong place. Atwill struggles against all contemporary scholarship to insist that Gadara was the original reading in the Gospels (because his theory requires it to be) when in fact it almost certainly was not. I’ll explain more on that fact below, since it’s one of the most telling examples of Atwill’s incompetence at a study like this, as well as of his inability to humbly admit being wrong, and his repeated resort to ad hoc attempts to deny or assert facts to save his theory, which only dig him deeper into a hill of bullshit, very much just like pretty much any Christian apologist you might ever have had the displeasure of arguing with. As you’ll see, it’s one of the best demonstrations of what it’s like to argue like a crank.
But back to the present point, contrary to the swine story, Josephus says fifteen thousand men are killed and two thousand and two hundred are captured (JW 4.436). But in the swine story, 2000 are killed, not captured, and the number is again 2000, not 2200. Had the Gospels said 2200, that might have been interesting. But in actual fact, the parallels here are far too imprecise to warrant any credible belief in a link. This kind of fabricated parallel is typical of Atwill’s dubious methodology. It is the rankest of retrofitting. The same fallacy bible code freaks use to make biblical prophecy fit contemporary events.
That’s just two examples of many, all falling to the same kinds of objections.
Even His Only Good Example Proves How Wrong He Is
The only good example Atwill sent me is his analysis of JW 6.201ff. Unfortunately, it is not a good example of his thesis, since it does not involve Jesus being mapped onto Titus (as Atwill’s thesis proposes) and the only distinct connection this story has with Jesus is the name “Mary” as the mother of an eaten child, and its connection to Passover. But “Mary” unfortunately was one of the most common Jewish female names (being, as it was, the name of the sister of Moses…one in four Jewish women had the name…you heard that right…one in four), and Passover is a ubiquitous theme throughout Jewish literature. So to have those two items alone as the link does not bode well.
Instead, what Atwill has found is what is certainly a very good instance of Josephus constructing what Josephus himself calls “a forsaken myth” to symbolize the “plight of the Jews” (JW 6.207-208) by inverting the concept of the Passover in order to represent the inversion of Jewish society among those who remained rebels against Rome. This is thus a case of the kind of symbolic-mythic composition employed in the Gospels, but it is notable for being uncommon for Josephus (a fact he himself is aware of, hence he clues us in by deliberately telling us it’s a “myth”). It is also not arguing for a religious doctrine, but simply making a clever literary point. Which was a standard skill taught in Greek schools.
What Josephus seems to have in mind is to communicate that Jewish society had been turned upside down by rebellion, and he does this by turning the Passover upside down. Hence we have here a Jew’s own poetic inversion of the Passover to make a contextual point about the state of society during the siege of Jerusalem. This does not suggest or require any knowledge of or allusion to Jesus or Christianity.
Had the baby been called Jesus, then Atwill might have had something. Or if the Gospels identified the mother of Jesus as “Mary the daughter of Eleazar” or “from the town of Bethezob,” as the Mary in Josephus is. Or had any Gospel identified any other Mary as being the actual daughter of Lazarus (“Eleazar”), instead of his sister, as only one Gospel actually does (Jn. 11:2). But alas, no such connections are there. Otherwise, Mary is too common a name to be remarkable, as is Eleazar. And the Gospels fail to identify Lazarus as from Bethezob but instead from Bethany. So it’s the wrong Lazarus. And Mary is his sister in John, not his daughter as in Josephus. And even this Mary (in John, the only Mary connected to a Lazarus at all, and by the wrong family relation) is not the mother of Jesus. So it’s also the wrong Mary.
So on every count a parallel is refuted here, not established. You have to change too many things to make a fit. And once you have to start changing the text all over the place to get what you want, on the basis of no evidence whatever, you are in crank land.
If the two authors (Josephus and “John”) were contriving parallels to make a joke or sell any deliberate point, they would have gotten their parallels straight, or at least done a much better job of it. For example, not only must we explain how the family relationship changed, and why Josephus meant to allude to Mary the mother of Jesus yet whoever wrote “John” (also Josephus?) got it wrong and made the corresponding Mary a different Mary not related to Jesus, but also why the names (Lazarus and Eleazar) aren’t even spelled the same, which usually indicates a lack of awareness of one writer by the other, not collusion.
That the Passover is being turned upside down is given by the fact that those who ate the Passover were specifically avoiding the slaying of their own sons, and sacrifices like this were meant to replace a human (like Isaac) with an animal (Lamb), whereas in this story an animal is replaced with a human, and not just any human, but the very son whose death was supposed to be averted by the Passover. Josephus clearly chose the name Mary because this is the name of the sister of Moses, the only prominent woman in the Exodus (hence Passover) narrative, especially given the meaning of her name, as Atwill himself notes: “rebellion.” But this “Mary” (the sister of Moses) is “rebellious” due to the OT legend of Num. 12, not from anything in the NT–where the mother of Jesus is never portrayed as rebellious–whereas the OT Mary is rebellious, and was punished for it: she is the woman whom Aaron begged “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb” (Num. 12:12).
A rebellious Mary from the days of the Passover, associated with a half-consumed baby. Hmmmm. Might that sound like the source of Josephus’ story to you?
There is no connection to Jesus here. Rather, this is a Jew transvaluing the OT. The Numbers passage in the Septuagint even says katesthiei to hêmisu (“half consumed”) while Josephus uses to hêmisu katesthiei, inverted but otherwise identical wording. Since Josephus already calls his story “a forsaken myth” that would represent the “plight of the Jews” (JW 6.207-208), we need look no further for what Josephus is doing here.
Atwill tries to find many other parallels between this “myth” and the Gospels, but they all suffer from the same distorted interpretations as the others, and amount to the same tactics of forcing a fit employed by defenders of biblical literalism. In contrast, the links between the context of this myth in Josephus and the OT are much clearer and more obvious, and require no knowledge of Jesus or Christianity, much less imply any comment on them.
I suggested Atwill seek publication of this parallel, since though it does not specifically support his thesis, it is still very interesting and well worth publishing to the scholarly community. But Awill seems stuck on his thesis. He can’t get away from it, and thus sees parallels everywhere he looks, even when they don’t really exist. And he would never see reason on this point. I expect he still uses it as a proof of his case, as if I had never shown him the evidence above, even though in fact I did.
In all, I gave him a fair shot. But Atwill never has any defensible examples, rarely knows what he is talking about, gets a lot wrong, makes stuff up, never admits an error, and is generally in my experience a frustrating delusional fanatic. He also has no relevant academic degrees that I am aware of. And he appears to have made no effort to acquire fundamental skills (like a working knowledge of Greek or how to use a biblical textual apparatus). Yet he claims to be an expert. When will audiences get a clue?
Our Long Conversation
The last straw for me was when I realized he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to studying Greek, or manuscripts, or textual criticism, skills that would be essential for anyone defending any thesis like his. This was exposed in an extended email conversation we had years ago. To show what I mean, I will conclude here by pasting in key portions of the emails I sent him then.
What follows is inordinately long (so if you are bored with Atwill already, you can skip the rest of this post). And yet it’s only a fraction of our entire conversation. So it’s length will give you some idea of how much of my time I gave to him. It also shows my descent from giving him the benefit of a doubt and a serious chance, to getting sick of his bullshit (bullshit that became progressively worse as he got pushed into a corner by increasingly uncomfortable facts and logic), and finally giving up on him.
From: Richard Carrier <[email protected]>
Date: Mon Oct 24, 2005 3:37:17 PM America/Los_Angeles
Dear Mr. Carrier:
A friend passed along to me your posts concerning my work, Caesars’ Messiah. Your criticism suggests that I have not, evidentially, explained my thesis clearly enough. Please allow me to correct this. I maintain that the Gospels were designed by Flavian intellectuals to be read inter-textually with the histories of Josephus to create a ‘Raz’, or ‘ secret’ that indicates that Titus Flavius was the ‘son of Man’ that Jesus predicted would bring ‘woe’ to Judea. The Romans did this to mock the messianic Peshers that circulated in Judea during this era and likely inspired the Jews to revolt against the empire.
And to be sure you understand, I find this thesis highly implausible, which only means the burden of evidence is greater on anyone who wants to prove it, not that the thesis cannot possibly be true.
The form of typology the Flavians used to create this overall ‘Raz’ concerning Titus in the Gospels is the same one used on a micro level by the author of Matthew to produce his ‘secret’ – that Moses’ life had ‘foreseen’ Jesus’ (Caesar’s Messiah, page 9). The author of Matthew combined three elements – just enough shared information for an alert reader to recognize that events from Jesus’ life were linked to events from Moses’ life, parallel locations for these linked events, and, most importantly, by a parallel sequence of the related events proving that they were not accidental.
This is certainly true, though it seems clear to me the purpose was a Jewish effort to convey a new message about how to reform society by conforming to God’s true will. The genre is called midrashic haggadah and is exemplified already in the writings of Philo and the 1st century Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum. It is derived from Hellenic modes of mythic discourse. The content only makes sense when understood as a message about how people should behave in order to correct the problems plaguing society, primarily corruption and greed, which inevitably led to violence. The commentaries of Bruce Malina are good studies on this point, but see also my discussion of Mark’s empty tomb narrative in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (esp. pp. 158-67) and Evan Fales’s contribution to that same book, “Taming the Tehom.” Similarly, note the Genesis and “clay pots” themes in Paul’s discourse on the nature of resurrection (ibid. n. 91, p. 206, and associated text and notes; p. 143, with associated notes; note also how Philo does same thing with OT that Matthew & Mark & Paul do: nn. 34-35, p. 202). This is all very clever and would require rabbinical familiarity with the OT and Jewish customs.
As I am sure you are aware, many of the parallels between Jesus’s ministry and Titus’s campaign I show have been noticed by other scholars. What has not been recognized heretofore is that these related events occur in the same order and at the same locations and can therefore be seen as part of the same typological system established in Matthew.
Even if that is so (and if so, you should get this one analysis published in a peer reviewed journal to start the scholarly discussion properly), such type-mapping does not require Roman authors, nor the flippant motive you suggest.
One critical but obvious parallel has, amazingly, been missed however; the fact that Jesus’ prophecy concerning the coming fates of Simon and John given at the conclusion to his ministry (John 21), is clearly ‘foreseeing’ the fates of Simon and John, the leaders of the Jewish rebellion handed out at the conclusion of the war. You have asked for a single piece of evidence that can be scrutinized. Though this is not the correct methodology for analyzing literary systems that are created incrementally (for example no single parallel would allow someone to deduce the ‘secret’ the author of Matthew revealed)…
I do not expect a theory to be proven on one case, but I must start with one case, for the same reason psychical researchers do not waste money setting up experiments to test a psychic who has already failed one good test, and yet these same researchers don’t assume the psychic’s powers can be proven by passing that one test. One must pass several tests in sequence, each test justifying the labor and expense of setting up and conducting the next, but as soon as tests start failing, further inquiry is not warranted. So, too, here: I need one good case that is not ambiguous or flawed and that hints at something significant along the lines of your thesis. Once I confirm that one case, then I can look at the next best case, etc. However, if even your best case fails to convince, then I know I need not waste time on any others. It’s just a requirement of economy.
[N]evertheless, I am certain if you spend a just few minutes comparing the fates of the ‘two sets of leaders of messianic movements in Judea in the second half of the first century engaged in missionary activity’ I am sure you will come to same conclusion I did. Jesus’s prophecy foresees the rebel leaders’ fate.
I don’t follow you. There is no one named “John” in John 21, except Simon’s father, and that name is only there as a patronymic (it’s Simon’s last name, e.g. Simon Johnson). The “beloved disciple” is never named, but is most probably not someone named John, but Lazarus (see Bruce Malina’s commentary on John, esp. pp. 193-211, 290, and cf. Jn. 11 and 12). Simon and John were also extremely common names, and the “fates” hinted here are extremely vague, so no one can demonstrate a link between these characters and any historical persons, even if one were intended by the author.
Moreover, John 21 is not original to the Gospel. Like Mark 16:8-20, John 21 is an additional ending added by someone else later (cf. Jn. 20:30-31, compare 21:24-25), which redacts a story borrowed from Luke, about an event that happened during the life of Jesus, not (as here) after his resurrection (another example of contradictions between the Gospels). None of this makes much sense on your theory, certainly not as much sense as the standard interpretations do (i.e. that the reference to Simon’s fate is simply a nod to what was then Christian legend regarding Peter, as represented in the later Acts of Peter, the Gospel of John having been written by most accounts between 100 and 110 AD with this added ending written between 110 and 130 AD; while the mention of the unnamed disciple’s fate is simply a correction to a legend about Lazarus, that he would never die, having already been resurrected by Jesus).
For me that already makes your claim highly suspect, or highly unprovable.
But please note the pages in your book where you make your case and I’ll take a further look.
Once this parallel conclusion for the two ‘sons of God’ is established the overall typological pattern in the Gospels becomes clear and their ‘Raz’ is revealed – Jesus’ ministry ‘foresaw’ Titus’ campaign. The life of the second ‘savior of Israel’ foresaw the campaign of the final ‘savior of Israel’. A few examples of the linked events of the ‘ministries’ of the two ‘son of god’ that occur in the same sequence are as follows – ‘fishing for men at the Sea of Galilee, an individual at Gadara from whose ‘one head’ a wicked group emanated that infects another group who – all together – rush into the water and drown…
You mean Gergesa (aka “Gerasa”). Gadara is a textual corruption. Earlier manuscripts of Matthew had Gerasa or Gergesa (variants of the same coastal-town’s name), not Gadara, as was already known by the time of Origen (early 3rd century) if not before, and has since been confirmed through manuscript textual analysis, and [this] is why Luke and Mark both correctly identify the town as Gerasa, not Gadara, while the geography of all three accounts obviously requires the town to be Gergesa, not Gadara–the latter being nowhere near the water (rather, more than a day’s walk from it).
To come to a clearer understanding of the Roman wit I maintain exists in the Gospels, you may wish to view the Peshers among the DSS. For example, 1QpHab, in which the interpreter looks into his Scriptures for parallels of the travails that his ‘Righteous Teacher’ is suffering at the hands of the Romans. The Romans, evidentially, were amused by such superstition and decided to create a ‘Righteous Teacher’ whose life had ‘truly’ foreseen the visitation of the real ‘son of God’ – Titus Flavius, son of the deified Vespasian.
When Romans poked fun at religion, it took forms like that of the Satyricon of Petronius or Lucian’s True Story or his Lover of Lies, or the Satires of Juvenal, not obscure and highly technical rabbinical midrashic haggadah with clearly moral content, not satirical. That’s why I find your theory highly implausible. It defies expectation by having the Romans behaving very uncharacteristically and crediting them with vast and impressive rabbinical knowledge, all just to tell a joke no one would get.
As I see it, the Gospels were indeed written by many different scholars, and subjected to redaction. These facts do not intersect my thesis which only maintains that, however they came into their final form, the editing was done with an awareness of the typology between Jesus and Titus.
That is only half your thesis, since even if true (and it still needs to be demonstrated to the scholarly community) it does not entail that the reason for this mapping was satirical, rather than mytho-ethical, or that it was crafted by Romans, rather than Jews. The latter is the other half of your thesis, and may be even harder to prove than the first half. I certainly think they need to be kept distinct as much as possible. What “is” the case and “why” it is the case are very different as to methods and evidence, especially in history.
I always find it strange that unusual parallels between purportedly Jewish literature such as the Gospels and the works of Josephus, are not even attempted to be read inter-textually, but rather are only subjected to ‘Gentile’ modes of analysis. Typology runs throughout Judaic literature and, therefore, whenever one encounters unusual parallels in such literature this should be the first, not the last, framework in which to attempt to understand them.
I agree. But most content in the Gospels already has these sources in the OT and Apocrypha and Jewish oral lore, and only occasionally are there clear allusions to distinctly Hellenic contexts (e.g. the Emmaus narrative in Luke is clearly a transvaluation of the legend of Romulus and Proculus, and I believe there is a commentary on Orphic soteriology in Mark’s empty tomb narrative, both with clear moral import). We should thus look first for Jewish parallels that produce meaning (e.g. how Matthew reworks Daniel in his empty tomb narrative: see my discussion in “The Plausibility of Theft,” again in The Empty Tomb: Jesus beyond the Grave), and consider parallels from the Gentile world secondarily. And either way, the greatest problem is always one of retrofitting: loosening definitions so much that almost anything can be made to fit. To avoid that, we have to maintain strict methods and restraint in our assertions.
From: Richard Carrier <[email protected]>
Date: Tue Nov 1, 2005 11:07:07 AM America/Los_Angeles
Hope you don’t mind my passing along a correction to your understanding of Origen’s position on Gadara. He did not write that: “earlier manuscripts had Gerasa”, rather he wrote that the “earlier manuscripts had “Gadaraenes”. He is silent as to whether or not any earlier manuscript gave a different location.
[EDIT: I didn't notice it at the time, but Atwill actually says here that Origen wrote "earlier manuscripts had Gadaraenes," which is false. Origen never said that. In Commentary on John 6.41.208-209 Origen says simply "in a few copies we have found, 'into the country of the Gadarenes',” nothing more. He goes on to explain that can't have been the original reading. And he uses this as an example of his general point that "In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect." I am uncertain whether Atwill was lying to me, or somehow misread the text, or meant "few" and accidentally typed the word "earlier."]
Regardless of what Origen said, we now can determine ourselves from extant mss. [= manuscripts] that Gadara is the corruption (check any textual apparatus for the NT to see why). Origen was aware of there being a corruption, but lacked the data we now have, so he resolved it by appeal to his personal knowledge of geography (and the symbolic employment of the location by the Gospel author)–and his reasoning is entirely correct: Gadara is geographically impossible, whereas Gergesa is clearly the intended location (Origen also discusses a very different city called Gerasa, but we now know that Gerasa is a possible translitteration of Gergesa from local dialects into Greek, and so the original text could have had either, referring to what Origen identifies as Gergesa). That all the earliest mss. that survive of Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Gerasa or Gergesa, not Gadara, confirms this (including an actual papyrus from Luke dated to the very time of Origen), as does the fact that the textual analysis of the manuscript tradition that we can reconstruct from texts all across the Mediterranean confirms that the Gadara reading must have arisen later in the tradition than either Gerasa or Gergesa.
Further, his etymolgical basis for suspecting “Gergesa” as meaning “dwelling of the casters-out” has been dismissed by specialists. Moreover, ‘Gadara’ is defined by Josephus as possessing territory “which lay on the frontiers of the Sea of Galilee” (Life ix, 42)…
Pardon me, but [Josephus] says no such thing there. The text says:
Then Justus through persuasion convinced the citizens [of Tiberias: Life 31] to take up arms, though forcing many against their will, and he went out with all of them and burned the villages of both the Gadarenes and the Hipposians, villages which happened to be lying on the border between the land of Tiberias and that of Scythopolis.
Hippos and Gadara had towns “on the border between” the cities of Tiberias and Scythopolis (which Josephus can only mean in rough terms, since neither could have had towns directly between those two cities, but could have held towns within five or ten miles of a point between Tiberias and Scythopolis, which could have sat on the border of lands held by Tiberias and Scythopolis).
Nowhere is there any mention of the “Sea of Galilee” here, nor geographically would that be possible. Hippos would certainly have had villages near the sea, but they would be between the sea and any villages held by Gadara. So there is no way to read Josephus as here saying there were villages of Gadara near the Sea of Galilee, much less on it.
Indeed, elsewhere Josephus says Gadara is twice as far from Tiberias as Hippos (Life 336): Hippos, he says, is roughly 4 miles from Tiberias, Gadara roughly 8 miles, and Scythopolis roughly 15 miles (all his numbers are short of the actual distance by about 25% but are correct in proportion). Here again he places the sequence in geographic order as: Tiberias, Hippos, Gadara, and Scythopolis. Though these do not sit on a straight line, their relative position north to south is correct. It is roughly four miles from Tiberias to the end of the Sea, where the border of Hippos could have been (if Josephus is measuring to nearest border and not across the water to the actual city), and about six actual miles beyond that in a continuous line (as the coastline points) is Gadara. So Josephus was short by only a couple of miles, yet even his own short estimate places Gadara several hours away from the sea. Josephus likewise says (in Life 44) “some nearby peoples, Gadarenes and Gabarenes and Tyrians” joined an attack on Gischala–these tribes are all over Galilee, and none near the Sea of Galilee. Thus again “nearby” is clearly a relative term–certainly for any sentence that says both the Gadarenes and the Tyrians were “nearby” Gischala!
All in all, there is zero support in Josephus for placing any Gadarenes near the Sea.
This understanding is supported by a number of coins bearing the name Gadara that portray a ship.
Did you actually bother to check the meaning of this? The coins in question were issued only once under Pompey and depict a war galley with the inscription “NAUMA[CHIA].” No Gadarene coins from any other era depict any ships of any kind. A “naumachia” was usually a mock naval battle held in an amphitheater, and may have been in this case, although the Sea of Galilee could have been the most convenient venue at the time. But all the cities of the Decapolis would have been invited to send teams to the competition, not just those on the coast. The Gadarene team probably won, and Pompey honored their victory by issuing a coin celebrating it. This in no way conveys the notion that Gadara was a naval town, much less a military base!
I think your scholarship is alarmingly shallow here, in both your treatment of the text of Josephus and this coin. Do you even read Greek?
From: Richard Carrier <[email protected]>
Date: Tue Nov 1, 2005 1:05:49 PM America/Los_Angeles
Thank you for your response. I want to first point out that I did not send you the synopsis with the hope you would find in it ‘proof’ of my thesis. In fact I do not believe that the thesis can be ‘proven’, as I understand the expression. Rather, I would argue that theories regarding literary systems, which are simply efforts to understand an author’s meaning, can only be judged in terms of their overall explanatory power. My claim is not that the theory presented in Caesar’s Messiah is ‘provable’, but that it has greater explanatory power – can coherently explain more of the Gospels – than any other. I sent the synopsis merely because, as you were commenting upon the thesis, I thought you would appreciate such a description.
I understand all this and I agree with what I think you mean, but this does not mean that all explanations that “work” are therefore equally likely to be true, as I’m sure you would agree. And if explanations that “work” differ in merit, there must be some criterion that distinguishes theories with merit from theories without, the same criteria that can identify the “most likely” explanation from among numerous working explanations. Thus, to “prove” a historical theory true means simply that: to demonstrate, as you put it, that a given theory explains all the evidence better than all other explanations.
Explanatory power is not sufficient to do that, however–it is only one of at least five criteria that have to be met–see my discussion in Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 238-52 [EDIT: now more formally accomplished in Proving History, ch. 4], or–more importantly because it presents a direct parallel of a fringe theory that eventually converted me from a scoffer to an advocate–my discussion of Doherty’s Jesus-myth theory. Thus, when I ask you to make a case, I am not asking for a scientific or mathematical case, I am simply asking for a case that meets the same criteria as any other historical theory that we are warranted believing is most likely true.
And in my experience, the people who advocate that extraterrestrials built the pyramids, or that UFOs are alien spacecraft, or that psychic powers exist, say all the same things you do as to method: that their claim cannot be “proven,” it just “explains more” than any other explanation, and that therefore we should believe it, or at least believe it is more likely than the mainstream explanation(s) otherwise accepted throughout the academic world. Your theory stands in the same place that these theories do as far as consensus goes: it is not accepted by the academic world, not even by a respectable minority. Therefore, you have two options: accept that your theory is less likely to be true than the mainstream theory, or demonstrate otherwise. And to do the latter requires meeting real standards, of peer review, consensus-building, and careful and thorough scholarship.
That’s where you stand. Where I stand is different, because I am in the same position vis-a-vis your theory as I am vis-a-vis the aliens-built-the-pyramids theory. As a matter of mere logical possibility, that theory could be true, but it is simply so unlikely that I cannot warrant wasting time considering it, as I hope you would agree. Thus, when some new pyramidiot comes to me and says he has some amazing new evidence for his theory, which is considerably complicated and requires extensive research to confirm (and they do–having written on this for a national publication years ago I am still a magnet for every guy who thinks he can prove me wrong), I don’t bother checking his supposedly “new” theory against the evidence. And I am right not to bother.
But if he gave me a taste of his case and insisted, just as you do, that the whole case is strong enough to warrant attention, what am I to do? I can’t listen to every bozo who says this. My lifespan simply isn’t that long. So I will ask him to present me with one single piece of his case, the piece that is most “amazing” or suggestive or whatever, and if that checks out and does indeed point where he claims, then I can ask for his next best piece of evidence, and so on, and if he keeps passing the bar eventually I will have examined his whole case and, by then, I should be convinced he’s right. But if he fails to present anything even remotely persuasive even on the first try, then I know it is a complete waste of my time to look at any of his other hundred pieces of “evidence.”
Whether you appreciate this or not is irrelevant. You simply have a choice: meet my standards or walk away. If you walk away, then I remain where all other historians stand: with no warrant to give any credit to your theory. If you are fine with that, then so am I. Otherwise, your only recourse is to meet our terms of demonstration. Yet already you break the rules by barraging me with a dozen cases of mixed value. I told you to pick one–your best–and start with that. Yet none of the examples you sent me are even good examples (except one, which is not good enough [EDIT: meaning Mary the Cannibal, which I addressed above]).
If you wish to understand the thesis, however, there is no shortcut to reading the book, as the system that I maintain exists in the Gospels is both incrementally built and interrelated. Thus, as with the typology in Mathew, no single parallel is capable of even demonstrating the thesis, which can only be understood by viewing the overall mapping. As in Matthew, a number of the parallels between Jesus and Titus can only be seen within the overall mapping scheme.
This sounds like apologetics to me. Either you have a good example or you don’t. If you don’t, then anything you construct from bad examples is not going to get beyond clever retrofitting, and that’s simply not how real history gets done. I hope you understand that I do not mean by “good” example an example that alone proves your case. I merely mean an example that is peculiar enough that it generates a reasonable suspicion that you may be on to something. I think your best examples should be even more impressive than that, but if your very best example merely rises to the level of being what I just defined as a “good” example, then start with that. Otherwise, if you lack even a single “good” example, I am afraid to say you can only have a clever bit of pseudohistory on your hands, a theory that “can” fit the evidence but is not thereby the most likely explanation of those facts.
I would like to proceed as follows; I will send you the related citations (below) you asked for, but I will include with them the very minimum amount of information I deem necessary for any understanding of the linkage between the passages my thesis posits. If, after reviewing this, you wish more information, or have criticisms or questions, we will simply repeat the process until you are satisfied. If you find that you are not interested, or do not have the time for such correspondence, then no harm done, and I will wait for you to get in touch before we resume.
Everything in the Gospels foresees Titus’ campaign. This relationship is satirical and designed to mock the messianic Jew’s belief in prophecy that foresaw them defeating the ‘Kittim’.
Again, please make an effort to distinguish claims as to what is the case from claims as to why. Causal theories are different from theories of fact, and anyone who confuses them will likely get all sorts of things confused. So please take this advice:
(1) You should be able to show that the Gospels map onto Titus in a manner that cannot reasonably be explained by coincidence or noncausal inevitability, and you should be able to do this without making any assertions as to why the evidence maps that way. The key here is that your map must be good enough that coincidence or inevitability become less probable an explanation than deliberate construction of a parallel. That is the bar you must meet for that claim.
(2) Once you have established (1), and only once you have established (1), you should be able to present evidence that the reason this map was created is “satire designed to mock the messianic Jew’s belief in prophecy,” as opposed to some other reason. The key here is that your causal explanation should have specific evidence in its favor that does not support any other causal explanation nearly as well, or specific evidence that actually argues against all other causal explanations except yours.
Even proving (1) but not (2) would be an enormous breakthrough that should be reported and discussed throughout the field of biblical scholarship, and thus warrants submitting papers on it to peer reviewed journals. But proving (2) would be a breakthrough of vastly greater importance in every conceivable way. But you can only establish belief in either that is proportional to the strength of the evidence. If you show that (1) is only slightly better an explanation than coincidence and inevitability, or that (2) is only slightly better than alternative explanations, then your theory only warrants a suspicion of being true–it will not warrant any actual belief. I think you will need a stronger case than that for your work to be of any use to the scholarly community.
But in the following you make no effort at all to untangle (1) and (2). Your presentations confuse both kinds of theory and thus you seem to be confusing yourself even more.
‘Jesus’ was designed as a prophet that actually ’foretold’ the truth, that Titus would destroy the ‘wicked generation’. His prophetical nature was not confined to his direct predictions – which all were regarding Titus’s military victories – but, like the relationship between Moses and Jesus, his very life ‘foresaw’ Titus’s campaign.
The most obvious alternative causal explanation to (2), assuming you can establish (1) in the first place, is that Jewish critics of the Jewish elite, following God’s prediction in Daniel of that elite’s downfall at the hands of a Gentile conqueror, crafted the Jesus character as a symbolic link between God’s promise as played out in Moses and God’s wrath as played out in Titus, asking the reader to choose sides (Jesus or the Jewish elite) and by thus choosing, they choose their own fate (destruction, just as at the hands of Titus, or salvation, just as promised to and by Moses).
That is the first theory I would examine for (2) if you establish (1). But you fail even to establish (1) as far as I can see. For not a single example [you gave me] is a “good” example of that as defined above. You can’t count something that “can” fit as a good example. The fit has to be significantly more probable by design than by chance, and that requires actual evidence of an intended fit, not the mere ability to force a fit by reinterpreting whatever you need.
The humor in the Gospels is black and primarily revolves around the Flavians seeing irony in the fact that the Jews, a people too fastidious to eat pork, engaged in cannibalism during the siege of Jerusalem. The basic structure of the humor is for there to be a literal meaning to Jesus’s comments that changes them from seemingly spiritual to black comedy. For example, when Jesus states “to have life in you, you must eat of my flesh”, this is, within the Gospels satirical level, a prophecy that will, as shown below, come to pass literally within Titus’ campaign.
Except that in Paul and the Gospels the idea of eating the flesh of Jesus makes far more sense as a Jewish theological scheme of salvation than as some vastly obscure joke no one got. Surely you know scholars agree Jesus is equated with the atoning lamb whose flesh is and was in fact eaten by Israel, and not only that, but eaten in substitution for human flesh [EDIT: e.g. at the Passover, that of everyone's firstborn; at the original Yom Kippur, that of Isaac, Abraham's firstborn]. It is thus a message of communion and salvation, a means to enter the true Israel and thus win the salvation promised by God to Israel. That’s quite clearly the meaning, not some joke on cannibalism.
For example, Jesus clearly is presented as one who merges the Passover Lamb and the Goat of Atonement of Yom Kippur. The Barrabas story clearly indicates this (he is the “scapegoat” of Lev. 16, as his name means “Son of the Father” and thus we have two “Sons of the Father,” one taking on the sins of Israel and being released into the “wilderness,” i.e. the mob, and the other being sacrificed to atone for the sins of Israel). This is the theme in Christian theology throughout all the NT documents, where the sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sins of Israel just like the Goat of Yom Kippur and yet is also the Passover Lamb that unites Israel and wards off God’s wrath. For example, it is by sharing the flesh of the lamb and bread of Passover that one joins or exits the promise of salvation, by joining or exiting the body of Israel, therefore it is by sharing the flesh and bread of The Savior (which is what the word “Jesus” means) that one joins or exits the true body of Israel. There is no cannibalism here, any more than there is “cannibalism” in eating the ram substituted for Isaac–rather, it is a ritual by which one joins the body of Christ by sharing [symbolically] in his flesh, and thus sharing in his fate, which is eternal life (see my discussion in The Empty Tomb, p. 145, etc. [EDIT: I say much more about this, with citations of the scholarship, in my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus]).
The ingenious congruence of texts makes this quite clear as the intended meaning of the Eucharist, and I see no joke here–this is clever and serious. Note my emphasis of key vocabulary:
John 1:29: “On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!”
Thus Jesus is declared to be both the Lamb of Passover and the Goat of Atonement all rolled up in one. Because he is the Lamb who atones, we eat him just as we eat the lamb, and gain the same benefits thereof.
1 Pet. 1:18-20: “Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious BLOOD, as of a LAMB without spot: the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake.”
And this principle of substituted flesh is already Jewish [in Gen. 22:4-18] … That establishes the principle of substitution, “on the third day” eating the flesh of the ram in the place of “[Abraham's] only son” and by doing this God will guarantee every good thing.
Hence Jesus does this by connecting Yom Kippur with Passover, wherein the lamb must be eaten [in Exodos 12:3-15] … One Passover Lamb that can feed everyone will do, all the Jews will kill the lamb (just as the Gospels and Paul portray as having happened), and those who eat its flesh and take its blood as a sign will be saved from destruction, while those who do not share of the Passover blood and bread will be cut off from Israel (thus by sharing the sacred bread one joins the body of Israel). The symbolic parallel here is clear in Paul [in 1 Cor. 5:4-8] …
Thus, Jesus is our Passover, by eating his flesh we join the congregation by joining the body of Christ and thus we share in his fate. That is why Paul routinely says the Church is Christ’s body, which it becomes by consuming his “flesh” symbolically–in the same way that wine was widely regarded as the blood of Bacchus, and grapes his flesh.
This is in fact the mainstream view–most scholars agree with the general interpretation above. This is the theory that your theory (2) is competing against, and the evidence so far looks stronger on our side than on yours.
The Gospels are oriented to Titus’s first battle, his ‘onset’ at theSea of Galilee. Therefore the events in the Gospels that occur within the typological mapping before that battle are described in the Gospels as occurring “before my time”. For example, Jesus’s description of himself on Mount Gerrizim as “living water” (John, 4:6-21) foresees the Roman battle with the Jewish rebels on Mount Gerrizim (Jewish Wars, Whiston – henceforth JW – 3, 7, 312) where the Jewish rebels died of thirst and occurred before Titus’s ‘onset’ at the Sea of Galilee.
But [that] encounter with Jesus does not take place on Mount Gerizim. The location is Jacob’s Well, just outside Sychar (4:5). Mount Gerizim is only visible from there (4:20), and its importance is plainly stated [in that passage]: it is the center of Samaritan worship, their parallel to the Jerusalem Temple, thus it is inevitable that Jesus would mention how he will replace it just as he will replace the Temple (Jn. 2:18-22). Had it been some other mountain that otherwise had no reason for both texts to mention, then a parallel might exist with Josephus; otherwise we already have sufficient reason to expect John and Josephus would mention the same mountain.
Likewise, no parallel with dying of thirst on the mountain is drawn, but with drinking the water of Jacob’s well. Hence the “water” reference is exactly the same as Mark’s allusion to the water of Jacob’s Well (Empty Tomb, p. 161, etc.), which makes far more sense of this than your theory (and is clearly the intended sense from the chapter’s entire conversation). Your theory seems to cherry-pick this “living water” mention, and fudges the location for it, in order to force a tenuous parallel in Josephus. Gerizim would inevitably be a center of importance in both authors and “water” is a Johanine theme, mentioned twenty times in that Gospel, usually with theological significance (thus allowing lots of different contexts you could have cherry picked from), including a repeat of “living water” that reveals the actual intended meaning of the phrase:
John 7:38: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.”
Thus your theory does not make any more sense of the facts than coincidence and inevitability already do.
Therefore, Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman on Gerrizim is said to have occurred “before my hour has come”. (John 7:6)
This is an implausible stretch of speculation. The mainstream theory makes more sense, or at least just as much sense: i.e. his “time” is the time of death and resurrection when he shall atone for all sins and thus prevail:
Joh 2:4: And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
Joh 7:6: Jesus therefore saith unto them, My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready.
Joh 7:30: They sought therefore to take him: and no man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come.
Joh 8:20: These words spake he in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man took him; because his hour was not yet come.
John 20:17: Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.
The satirical and typological linkage between the Gerrizim events is straightforward…
In the mainstream theory, yes. In your theory, it seems forced and implausible and in no way exceeds the mainstream theory in evidential support, as far as you’ve presented it here.
…and notice that Jesus refers to the coming war.
Where? I see no reference to a war here, or in fact to any specific event on Gerizim. You have to be “inventing” such a reference by conveniently “reinterpreting” what the text says as it suits you. This is the same trick played by biblical literalists who interpret the text however they need to in order to eliminate contradictions.
Jesus refers to himself as ‘living water’ on Gerrizim because this ‘foresees’ the fact that this was where the rebels ran out of water.
Why not just say this? The Gospels have Jesus outright predict details of the destruction of Jerusalem, but here he completely hides any prophetic mention of any specific event behind an otherwise clear theological and soteriological discourse on Jacob’s well and the true salvation of all Israel? That seems improbable to me. So I don’t see your theory coming anywhere near as well supported as the mainstream view of this passage. [EDIT: And again, Jesus does not refer to himself as living water "on" Gerizim...he is not at Gerizim in that story, but Sychar. Atwill seemed never to acknowledge this. He kept going on as if this scene was narrated as occurring on Mount Gerizim.]
This theme reappears when Jesus calls himself “living bread’ at Jerusalem where the rebels ran out of food.
The reference is to mana (“the living bread which came down out of heaven,” and literally “mana” a few verses earlier) and God’s corresponding promise of salvation to Israel, allusions that make less sense on your theory, nor is there here any reference to any prediction of anyone starving anywhere. So again the context already provides a clear, obvious, and far better supported interpretation than yours.
The onset of Jesus’s ministry – his acquiring of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee- is linked to JW 3, 10. The typology is extremely complex and also links to John 21 – where Jesus’s prophecy concerning his disciples ‘fishing for men’ actually comes to pass. Within this overview, I would simply note that the word Titus uses in his speech “horme” can mean, exactly as “onset’ does in English, either a staring point or an assault. Titus also states that “God will be assisting to my onset”, directly after making one comment about his father and another about his being his father’s son. Since at the time JW was being written Vespasian had been deified, it is at least arguable that the ‘God’ Titus is referring to was his father, particularly since the ‘god’ who actually “assisted” his ‘son of god’ – Titus – during the coming battle was Vespasian.
That this “can” be what Josephus intended in no way argues that it “is” what Josephus intended. “Maybe, therefore probably,” is invalid reasoning.
The location – following the format of typological mapping in Matthew – is the same as the onset of Jesus’s ministry. Further, Titus, like Jesus, has been sent by his father, is followed (Luke 5:10), tells his disciples not to be afraid (Luke 5:10)
These are inevitable parallels–they are true of hundreds of people in history. It’s like the scores of “parallels” between Lincoln and Kennedy that circulate on the web. We need good examples, not questionable ones. Not because Josephus couldn’t have intended these parallels, but because we have no way of knowing whether he did from all-too-common attributes like these.
…and of course, there is a reference to ‘fishing for men’ in both ‘onsets’.
Where is this in Josephus?
Also notice that the leader of the rebels is named ‘Jesus’ and that Titus kills him (JW 3, 10, 5, 510)…
There are at least six men named Jesus in Josephus. It was one of the most common of all Jewish names. And Titus kills a lot of leaders, not just this one. So we have here all the ingredients for coincidence. And since the name means “Savior,” the Christian savior had to have that name (indeed, I think it is demonstrable that the Gospel Jesus comes from the OT: the name “Jesus” appears there 214 times! Take all those references, and the OT verses that are linked to them by direct allusion back or forward, and you can construct almost the entire gospel from them).
Notice that the sequence of events [between the mentions of Gadara in Mark vs. Josephus] – again following the typology in Matthew – is the same for both stories, which certainly makes the argument that the parallels are accidental more complex.
It looks like you are retrofitting again–finding anything that is even remotely able to be forced to fit. Otherwise, there is no sequence of events that is the same, unless you yourself arbitrarily “declare” that a wall of spears is a Sea, that some dying and others dispersing is the same thing as all perishing, that rebels recruiting soldiers is the same thing as demons entering pigs (neither story using the concept of “infection”), that recruits “some by will, some forced against their will” is the same thing as all the demons asking of their own free will to be moved into the pigs, and so on. In other words, this “parallel” is far too contrived to be convincing.
Also notice that the ‘legion’s’ behavior in the Gospels is incoherent from any theological perspective, but as a portent of Josephus’ story makes perfect sense.
I see no such sense in it. The parallel is bizarre and barely intelligible, and so tenuous that no one would ever get it. In contrast, that the choice of demons would be to perish is exactly the moral message of the gospel. There is nothing incoherent here–this is perfectly in line with Jewish theology. And that this fleet of demons would get the peculiar label “legion” is yet another reference to the way of violence, and the use of force by the elite to suppress the masses, [as being] the way of demons and thus the way of destruction (in contrast to the way of communism and pacifism that was being offered in its place). For example, when the Jewish “mob” choose Barabbas, the message is that they are choosing the way of insurrection and murder, and hence death, instead of choosing the Atoning Death of God’s Christ, and hence eternal life.
Even beyond that, MacDonald’s theory as to the Homeric meaning of the swine has more evidence in its favor than yours, and though I do find it intriguing, I am not entirely convinced by his theory [on this point], so I can only be even less convinced by yours. Yet he at least has strict criteria and tries to follow them, unlike your approach:
The typology in the passage showing that the child is to be regarded as a ‘messiah’ is complex and I will not go into it in this overview, but I do want to point out that in addition to ‘fulfilling’ the prophecy concerning ‘eating my flesh’ the passage also fulfills two other NT prophecies. One is that given in Luke 2:35 which predicts that Mary will be ‘pierced through’ and is fulfilled in JW 6, 3, 204; the authors use different words that, from the satirical perspective, have the same meaning.
Jesus says “a sword shall pierce through thine own soul” — had Josephus used a phrase closer to this, you might have something. But instead you have to exaggerate what tenuous connections there are, when anyone could describe hunger in a similar way as stabbing pains, while in Luke there is no connection at all even alluded to that such piercing will be related to hunger or would even relate to the body! That’s not a good example. Moreover, you are jumping now between Luke and John to build a parallel–yet any intended parallel would most likely be constructed all in one place (either Luke or John or both, but not spread out at random between them).
The linkage to Jesus’s crucifixion occurs in Josephus, Life, 26. The typology showing that the individual who survives is a messiah is complex and I will only mention here that it exists, but I would note that ‘Joseph of Arimathea’ is an obvious pun upon Joseph bar Mathias.
It is actually a more obvious pun on what the word Arimathaia actually means: “Best Doctrinetown.”
Again, why not simply say Barmathias? Why disguise the connection by spelling both names differently? The Gospels also make clear it is a place, not a person ([using the preposition] “from” Arimathaia). And Josephus’s Life says “Matthias” while the Gospels all say -mathaia, yet an intended parallel would employ the same spelling, don’t you think?
…who are both ‘wise counselors’ who arranged for the ‘survivor’ to be taken down from the cross. I would also point out that the author has provided a path to know exactly when the event occurred relative to the other parallel links – after the fall of Jerusalem but before Titus left Judea.
As far [as] your point that John 21 does not mention ‘John’, I would note that the passage does not mention Simon either, instead calling him by his nickname ‘Peter’.
What!? “Simon” appears seven times in John 21!
[EDIT: Notice how Atwill can never get his facts straight, and is frequently certain that things are true that are demonstrably false.]
The fact that the passage was clearly moved to its position from somewhere else actually supports my thesis, as it has been moved to the correct position to link it to Josephus depiction of the fates of the rebel leaders JW 6, 9, 434.
But how can it have started out at an “incorrect” position when all the Gospels are supposed to have been crafted with the same ends in mind? Did Luke screw up?
For clarification of my thesis I would ask that you accept the straightforward reading of John 21 and attempt to view the passage as a possible prophecy regarding the rebel leaders Simon and John and then locate it within the overall mapping between Jesus and Titus. As with the typology in Matthew, everything becomes clear once someone sees the ‘big picture’. I would also note that my thesis does not require conjectures regarding the texts; but accepts them as they have been presented.
If these are your best examples, the case is closed: your theory is unwarranted. None of the above examples is “good” and thus I cannot warrant wasting any more time on this–unless you have kept your actual good examples in hiding? The only good example you have is neither an example of (1) nor (2) and therefore is not an example of anything relating to your thesis–although it is a very fascinating example of a clever literary device in Josephus, one I would encourage you to get published in a peer reviewed journal.
From: Richard Carrier <[email protected]>
Date: Wed Nov 2, 2005 11:19:42 AM America/Los_Angeles
Your statement: “Hippos would certainly have had villages near the sea, but they would be between the sea and any villages held by Gadara” is geometrically incorrect. If you simply take a ruler and chart lines from Hippos, Gadara, Tiberius and Scythopolis to the Sea of Galilee you will find that it is indeed possible for Gadarato have possessed villages next to Lake Tiberius. You are inventing facts (that Hippos possessed villages that ‘blocked’ Gadara from having villages next to the Sea).
You seem to think “can be” is equivalent to “probably was.” Please stop that. I am a historian, and speak like a historian, not like a theologian. I am not arguing for what is “logically necessary” but what is historically probable. The scenario you suggest is certainly logically possible, but it is very unlikely, and again nowhere in evidence–remember, Origen went there and is speaking from personal experience of the geography. Had Gadara held villages on the Sea, don’t you think he would have pointed that out instead of arguing that the town must have been Gergesa? Hence you are the one who has to “invent” towns nowhere in evidence in order to get your parallel to work. But a theory based on pure speculation remains pure speculation. It can never rise above that. I am content to agree that your theory rises no higher than pure speculation. Are you?
Further, your statement that: “yet even his own short estimate places Gadara several hours away from the sea” underscores the logical absurdity of your position – that Gadara could not be the place of the Gospel demoniac story because of its location – since even that distance is within the range of distance a herd of swine could travel…
Oh dear me. Are you serious? The demons flew into the pigs, then the pigs ran six miles to the sea? That’s exactly the kind of silly and desperate contrivance that biblical literalists depend on to eliminate contradictions in the Bible. Just like them, you are trying to eliminate a contradiction between the facts and your own pet theory. If you get to invent hours-long journeys out of “rushed down the slope into the sea” then what theory couldn’t you defend? Don’t you see the self-defeating nature of your own methodology? All you have here is a self-fulfilling theory, by which you can invent anything you need to make it fit. What objective criteria limit what you can do by way of “interpreting” the text? I see none here.
Your statement: “That all the earliest mss. that survive of Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Gerasa or Gergesa, notGadara, confirms this (including an actual papyrus from Luke dated to the very time of Origen)” Is clearly contradicted by Origen who knew of even earlier manuscripts that had ‘Gadara’.
Origen does not know or state the dates of the mss. that had that reading. So it cannot be said any of the Gadara readings were “earlier” even from his remark. Yet what I said is that all the earliest mss. that survive have those readings, so my statement cannot be contradicted by anything Origen said anyway. What Origen lacked access to was all the diverse geography and tradition that current mss. reflect. The fact that so many diverse traditions have that reading (even in translations, such as the Armenian and Syriac and Ethiopian and pre-Jerome Latin, etc.) corroborates statistically the conclusion that the earliest reading was not Gadara (had that been so, we would have more traditions with it–instead, the only extant mss. with that reading are the later and less reliable mss.). Again, though it is “possible” for the normal course of transmission to be inverted, this is not probable, and historians deal in the probable, not what is “merely possible.”
You are also ignoring the point that neither Luke nor Mark have Gadara until later medieval mss. start inserting it. Only Matthew has anything like an early reading of Gadara. That confirms the original reading was not Gadara: since Mark wrote first and Luke and Matthew both copied Mark, the corruption to Gadara had to happen either between Mark and Matthew (or by Matthew) or after Matthew (most likely the latter, since most extant early mss. of Mt. still don’t have Gadara, and Origen himself confirms this…).
Since Gadara only appears in Mark and Luke in late mss., never in earlier mss., and since most mss. of Matthew don’t have Gadara either, even in very isolated traditions (like the Ethiopian and Armenian) where an emendation away from Gadara would be very unlikely to have occurred in both completely isolated mss. traditions (much less numerous such geographically distinct traditions), the conclusions of probability are not with you.
Hence all scholars who know what they are talking about and who have applied the science of critical textual analysis to the mss. agree that Gadara was not original in Mark or Luke and is very unlikely to have been original in Matthew. You are thus again rejecting established expert conclusions which were based on proven skills and criteria, without applying any proven criteria at all, merely to prop up your own dubious pet theory. That’s exactly what the biblical literalists do. It simply isn’t the way real history gets done.
And notice that he only states knowledge of manuscripts with Gadara, he is silent as to whether or not other manuscripts gave another city.
Oh dear me. That is entirely false, and on this I can finally conclude you are not competent as a historian.
“The transaction about the swine, which were driven down a steep place by the demons and drowned in the sea, is said to have taken place in the country of the Gerasenes.”
Gerasenes. Not Gadarenes.
Then he says:
“But in a few copies we have found, ‘into the country of the Gadarenes’ …[but] there is no lake there with overhanging banks, nor any sea.”
Hence a few copies said “Gadarenes.” Emphasis on FEW. Therefore, most did not say Gadara. He does not say of which Gospels, either, but since he doesn’t say “the manuscripts of Matthew” clearly his remark entails that most mss. of Matthew did not have Gadara, either, and probably no other mss. did except a few of Matthew.
Origen then is vague as to where he gets the idea of Gergesa, but from the context it seems clear he either understood Gerasa to be a possible translitteration of Gergesa (as we have now concluded today) or he knew of some mss. with that reading (as we now know there were). At the very least, he does not deny either conclusion, and does not otherwise state his reason for mentioning this town (not even as his own conjecture). But one thing is clear: Gadara was the rare reading even in his day, not the common reading, even in the mss. available to him.
[EDIT: And again, even Origen knew it was impossible, not least because Gadara is nowhere near the Sea, which he confirmed personally. Atwill simply never acknowledged any of this. He just pretended I never said it, or gainsaid it with falsehoods, as you can see he just did above. You might now be getting the idea of why I am sick of this and see no point in conversing with the man ever again. And mind you, I left out half the conversation...there was even more tedious stuff like this.]
Obviously there were ‘early manuscripts’ with Gadaraas why else, your conjectures regarding corruption aside, would the received texts give that city?
Why do any of the several thousand corruptions exist in the Bible? A great many are simple errors of mispelling, misreading, transposition, etc., as we have confirmed countless times in all ms. traditions in and outside of the Biblical field. It was so common, in fact, that the presumption must be toward scribal error, unless we have good reason to argue otherwise (e.g. dogmatic purposes or cross-contamination). That we don’t know exactly why this mistake was made in no way argues against the abundant evidence that it was, in fact, a mistake. Hence you must answer why some mss. say Gazarene, some Garadene, some Gergesthan, some Gergustene, or else concede that such corruptions simply happen–as in fact clearly they have!
Your other email resorts to similar contrivances and inventions as you’ve resorted to above, and neither follows nor articulates any valid method I am aware of, so I won’t answer it. You have not convinced me, despite your best efforts. So I consider our conversation closed.
From: Richard Carrier <[email protected]>
Date: Wed Nov 9, 2005 11:18:39 AM America/Los_Angeles
Richard, I recognize that this has been a painful exchange for you, but when you publicly comment on someone’s work without having read it, you are going to get spanked.
I’m afraid not. You have essentially misunderstood some of what I have said and ignored the rest of it and now you have created a fictional world in which I have been “spanked.” The fact is, my points remain sound, and your argument remains non-credible. But clearly you have given up taking serious scholarship seriously, and you see yourself as a persecuted and misunderstood outsider. That’s fine by me. It just isn’t my gig.
That was my last communication with Atwill. I see no point in continuing to communicate with him or read anything by him. He doesn’t know what he is talking about, he has no valid method, he ignores alternative explanations of the evidence, and he invents anything he needs to force the evidence to fit his theory. And then when he is refuted, he claims he has been victorious. Alas, that pegs him. He is a crank.