Most reading this blog probably never heard of Epaphroditus. He is mentioned twice in Paul’s Philippians and by Josephus – who dedicates his Antiquities to him and makes it clear he was his patron – and by other Roman historians of the time. But to understand his importance, one should probably start with the interesting series of events leading up to and after the death of ‘Jesus’’ “brother” James presumably in 62 CE, three and a half year before the outbreak of the Uprising against Rome (Daniel 12:7-13’s sequentiality?) which help illumine this period.
Actually, one should probably start in the previous generation with the confrontation in Caesarea between someone Josephus calls “Simon the Head of an Assembly (or “Church”) of his own in Jerusalem” (the Gospels’ “Simon Peter”?) and Agrippa I (36-44 CE) over barring foreigners – in this instance including what we should probably always refer to as “Herodians” (he considered Agrippa I “a foreigner”) – from the Temple.
The latter was a grandson of Herod’s Maccabean wife “Mariamme” (the first of the many “Mary”s?) – who died under mysterious circumstances in 44 CE (referred to in both Acts and Josephus – probably poisoned) – and the scion of the only line “Jews” might have considered “legitimate” because of his “Jewish” ancestry. For his part, Agrippa I treated him kindly (Josephus calls him “chrestos”/”gentle”) sending sent him away with gifts (for these purposes, always remember Agrippa I and Agrippa II were different).
This episode has as its counterpart in the next generation the erection of a high wall in the Temple (often referred to as “The Temple Wall Affair”). The purpose of this wall was pointedly, notsimply to bar his son Agrippa II (c. 49-93) from the Temple; but to bar the latter’s view of the sacrifices altogether as he reclined on his terrace presumably with guests (probably including “foreigners”) overlooking the Temple precincts. I have identified this as the probable immediate impetus and real cause behind the stoning of this “James” above who, according to all early Christian texts was very popular and called “the Zaddik” or “Just One by all” and, as such (in my view) was probably the spiritual Leader, around whom all these “Opposition” Groups in the Temple revolved. This is indicative of the real atmosphere in Palestine in this period – Gospel portraiture of a pastoral ‘Galilean’ countryside notwithstanding – and overseas it would have been perceived, no doubt, as the epitome of recalcitrant malevolence.
This kind of intolerant ‘zeal’ (Acts 21:21, for instance, identifies the majority of this “James”’ followers in Jerusalem – and this in a more reliable later section – as “Zealots for the Law” and, in Paul’s own Galatians 2:12, they are called, most irreverently, “the Party of the Circumcision”) is reversed in, what scholars call, the ‘Pauline’ Letter to the Ephesians, which not only contains the doctrine of ‘Jesus as Temple’ – enunciated by Paul as well in 1 Corinthians 3:10 and 12:27 – but also the contrary position, that there should “no longer be strangers or foreign visitors” (Ephesians 2:19).
For it and for Paul, all are “fellow citizens in the Household” or “Temple of God”, of which “Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone” (2:20–22). This is also the picture in the Gospels. Noble sentiments, to be sure, with wide appeal; but, in a Palestinian framework, historically inaccurate as the Dead Sea Scrolls most definitely verify – as did the Temple warning blocks threatening death for strangers or foreigners entering the central area around the Temple even inadvertently (the is something like the area around Mecca relating to non-Muslims even to this day).
After this confrontation in Caesarea, and those that follow between Greeks and Jews throughout the next decade in that locale, comes the assassination of the High Priest Jonathan, accompanied by Josephus’ introduction of “the Sicarii” responsible for it. This “Jonathan”, it should be appreciated, was the brother of that “Ananus” responsible for the death of James in Josephus; and it is their father “Annas” whom the Gospel of John 18:13–24 pictures as interviewing Jesus before sending him bound to Caiaphas. It is at this point that John has Peter either “standing at the door’ or “standing” by the fire outside Ananus’ or Caiaphas’ “court” (“standing” being a very important usage for this period – as one might see in my books – now appearing five times in this one description).
Here Peter denies the accusation of the “kinsman” of “the Servant of the High Priest”, “whose ear Peter cut off” (“cut off ” too being another very important usage as one might see in Paul’s Galatians 5:12), that he was one of Jesus’ “Disciples” (18:10 and 26). For the Synoptics, this scene at “the High Priest Caiaphas’ House” turns into a midnight session of the entire Sanhedrin of High Priests, Elders, and Scribes – how believable is this? – and this supposedly at Passover, where the “blasphemy” charge is made against Jesus, though it is impossible to say for what reason.
In the Synoptics, too, not only is there no mention of a preliminary interview with Ananus, but Peter is now “sitting” by the fire, not “standing” – in fact, Luke never mentions the word “standing” at all and the other two, only once. For them, what Peter is denying is rather the point that he either knows “Jesus the Nazorean” or that he is “a Galilean” (Luke 22:54–62 and pars.). For its part, though, the Gospel of John accurately portrays Caiaphas as the son-in-law of Ananus (18:13), which makes the “Ananus” responsible (along with Agrippa II whom Josephus tells us had specifically appointed him while the Romans Governor had been away) for James’ death and the “Jonathan” slain by the “Sicarii” offshoots of “Judas the Galilean”’s “Zealot” Movement, Caiaphas’ brother-in-law – Ananus the Younger being the son of the older Ananus.
Josephus rails against the assassination of this Jonathan and the bloodshed that followed as “polluting” both city and Temple. In his discussion of these “Sicarii” (n.b., the title of “Judas Iscariot” in the Gospels and my discussions of “Sicarii Essenes” and the Roman legislation known as the “Lex Cornelius de Sicarius” related to them and forbidding the practice of “circumcision” as bodily mutilation in all my works), whom he calls “Robbers” (Lestai); he seemingly purposefully reverses the “Piety” language – involving both “the Essenes” and the Scrolls – of “loving God”:
"This is the reason why, in my opinion, even God himself, out of hatred for their Impiety, turned away from our city and, because He deemed the Temple to be no longer a clean dwelling place for Him, brought the Romans upon us and purified our city by fire, while inflicting slavery upon us together with our wives and children, for He wished to chasten us by these calamities."
Not only is this a frightening accusation, but the “slavery” Josephu is speaking about here reverberates with the “bondage” or “slavery” language Paul uses in Galatians 4, when he describes the Jews as the descendants of Hagar (“who is Mount Sinai in Arabia”) while his followers are “the children of the freeborn Sarah” using Philo-like allegorical interpretation to imply “freedom from Mosaic Law”. Moreover, this is a different kind of “mea culpa” confession from those one gets in the New Testament Gospels generally which are, nevertheless, but a variation of it too.
According to the chronology we are following, this is followed by the unlawful Sanhedrin trial, Ananus “pursued” (to use the language of the Scrolls at this point) against James at his new “House” of sitting (what the Scrolls might and do call his “Beit-Galuto”), succeeded by James’ stoning, which clearly indicate that James was identified as the center of the agitation giving rise to many of these things. That this “blasphemy” trial was undoubtedly trumped up by the ‘Herodian’ Authorities in conjunction with the Temple Establishment they sponsored; and that both Agrippa II and Ananus joined forces in it, further connects James to the source of both “the Temple Wall Affair”, mentioned above and directed against Agrippa II, and the assassination of Ananus’ brother – Caiaphas’ brother-in-law – “Jonathan”.
This, in turn, is probably not completely unrelated to the fire in Rome at approximately this time, which Nero blamed on so-called “Christians”. More sympathetic sources, however – perhaps prompted by ‘Christian’ friends in high places we shall now hear more about, not the least of whom being the Pseudoclementines’ “Clement”’s counterpart in Titus Caesar’s rother Domitian’s own household, “Flavius Clemens” – put the blame rather on Nero himself.
Whatever the mechanism, Nero clearly seems to have decided to rid himself of Jews and Jewish agitation generally. Therefore, he sends another Governor Florus (64–66 CE) out to Judea who, by Josephus’ own testimony, seems intentionally to goad the population into revolt. At the same time Nero kicks his wife Poppea – Josephus’ patron who he described as “a worshipper of God”, in other words, “a God-Fearer” – to death, presumably agitated by concerns over her interest in causes of this kind, not to mention her pregnancy.
In the midst of the war in Judea, Nero is assassinated. Among those accused of having a hand in this would appear to be our Epaphroditus, Paul’s associate comprising the focus of this article, whom he calls in Philippians 2:25: his “brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier”, his (not ‘Jesus’’) “Apostle” – a man, Josephus tells us in his dedication in The Antiquities, “participated in many important events”. Though some might object to this tripartite identification, not only do Suetonius and others affirm that “Epaphroditus” was Nero’s secretary – which would make Paul’s intimations in Philippians 4:18 about “Saints in the household of Caesar” (which is just where Paul says he is sending him) all the more accurate – but this same Epaphroditus re-emerges, survivor that he appears to have been, in the early 80’s as Domitian’s secretary as well.
Not long before Domitian as well was assassinated in 96 CE, Epaphroditus appears to have run afoul of him too – purportedly over his behaviour at the time of Nero’s assassination, which Domitian seems to have used as a pretext to execute him, complaining that he (Epaphroditus) had dared to raise his hand against an Emperor. This is most peculiar indeed, coming from a man like Domitian and there would appear to be more behind these events than appears on the surface. Not only was this about the time that Domitian was supposed to have been “rounding up all those of the family of David” and possibly the real year James’ successor and possible “brother”, Simeon bar Cleophas, was executed; 96 CE was also the year Flavia Domitilla, the wife or niece of “Flavius Clemens” above (one of the consuls that year and Domitian’s co-ruler – “Flavian” being the name of Vespasian’s Imperial Family – therefore too “Flavius Josephus”), was,
according to Eusebius, exiled for “her testimony to Christ”.
In fact, she was Domitian’s niece too and “Flavius Clemens” (“Clement”?) was his cousin and the oldest and most important “Christian Catacomb” to this day, “the Domitilla Catacomb”, is named for her since is was founded on her property. Domitian, who was apparently childless, had designated their two sons his heirs – he had renamed them “Vespasian” and “Flavius” – that is, before he had Flavius Clemens executed the same year as he had Epaphroditus. Perhaps just as significantly, Domitian was, in turn, himself assassinated – an event Suetonius describes most vividly – by Flavia Domitilla’s own steward, one “Stephanos” or “Stephen” – for those who know their Scripture, an all too familiar name.
Suetonius, too, an individual who cannot be described as particularly philo-Semitic, delineates Domitian’s hatred or at least cruelty towards Jews, attesting that he “levied the tax against them” with the utmost vigor, even prosecuting those who, while not publicly acknowledging the Faith, yet
lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origins and did not pay the tribute levied against their People.
One such prosecution of a man “ninety years old”, Suetonius himself acknowledges having witnessed as a boy, who “was examined before the Procurator to see whether he was circumcised” – how familiar is this, not
very different from our own purportedly modern world!
Not only does this Epaphroditus appear to be the same individual Josephus dedicates his Antiquities and Vita to, his words regarding him in the former – “a lover of all kinds of learning, but principally delighted by the study of history” – are not only thoroughly modern, but attest to how little things have changed. Nor, had Epaphroditus not encouraged him, would he have made the effort “to overcome his sloth” and pour out the Antiquities. Though his relationship to Domitian’s Epaphroditus is contested – to say nothing of Paul’s companion sent “to the Saints” in Nero’s household – and some suggest there may have been two Epaphrodituses, father and son; still, for Josephus, Epaphroditus was a man who had experienced many important political events.
Much depends on when and how Josephus died, which is unclear since we have no Josephus left to chronicle it; but he too seems to have disappeared about the same time Epaphroditus did and possibly for similar reasons – maybe even because of information contained in the newly published Antiquities or Vita (both encouraged byEpaphroditus) that some may have found offensive. One must ask why Epaphroditus was so interested in such things?
Whatever the conclusion, the Julio-Claudians in the form of their last representative Nero (54-68) gave way to the Flavians who, abetted by a host of Jewish turncoats like Josephus and Philo’s nephew Tiberius Alexander above (who, Josephus himself tells us, “abandoned Judaism”, was Roman Governor in Palestine from 46-48 and probably mentioned in Acts 4:6 along with Caiaphas, Ananus, and Jonathan we shall have cause to allude to below, and later even Titus’ military commander, left behind by his father Vespasian in 68 to help him when he went to Rome to assume the Emperorship at the time of the siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the Temple).
Nor is this to say anything about Agrippa II, whom Josephus tells us as well gave him some 70-odd letters later in Rome (where all were living comfortably) to help with The Antiquities (c. 93 CE, which provide a superior picture to that of the War 20 years earlier), and his whole family, including Bernice who had become Titus’ mistress and participated in the deliberations to destroy the Temple, and Drusilla (his other sister Drusilla, who had divorced another husband, who had specifically converted to Judaism at her father’s request to marry Felix and who, after Pontius Pilate, even Josephus acknowledges to have been Palestine’s most brutal Governor – both of whom are pictured in convivial conversations with Paul, as are Agrippa II and Bernice, by this time rumored to be incestuous lovers, at the end of Acts 24-26 – their son Antonius Agrippa, Josephus informs us as well, was even killed at Pompeii in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE); or, for that matter, even Paul!
These seem to have marketed their own version of Jewish “Messianism”, which, at the very least, was presented as submissive and deferential to the power of Rome and its Emperors – this not to mention marketing a healthy dose of Greco-Alexandrian, Hellenistic anti-Semitism. So this really does begin to give insight into the difficult question of who could have written the original accounts, upon which so many of Gospel episodes – in whatever the Gospel – in the form we have them are based and which, however transformed, really do take a lot of ‘special’ knowledge to have created. This question, as just noted, though puzzling scholars for generations, in the light of what we have just briefly sketched out may not be as difficult to gain a modicum of insight into as many may think.
To do so, one must keep in mind the attitudes, the orientation, or, if one prefers, the polemics, which are in fact quite straightforward. With rare exceptions, the point-of-view of the documents – particularly the ones we are familiar with (most ‘canonized’ after Constantine’s conversion and ‘Church’ Councils, while others were destroyed or, at least denoted “heretical” – is almost always anti-Semitic, pro-Gentile, anti-national,and pro-Roman. While employing the warp and woof of Jewish “Messianism” (including both as a response to and portrayal of “the Star Prophecy” of Numbers 24:17 – also found in at least 3 places among other “Messianic” Prophecies in the extant Dead Sea Scrolls), this is exploited basically to produce a pro-Roman, spiritualized, Hellenistic-style “Mystery Religion.”
Here, one must understand that, while all the Gospels exhibit differences, what scholars call “the Synoptics” are basically variations on a theme – with more or less material added. John, while differing markedly as to specific historical points and development, still comes from the same Hellenistic,anti-Semitic mindset – for the most part, even more extreme – there being virtually no pro-Jewish parts.
What we are speaking about here is the original core of materials and the mindset they evince, not the endless variations, addenda, or accretions, lesser or greater. The underlying mindset is on the whole consistent, while the variations one or the other incorporate are so complex and creative that even the modern techniques of form, redaction, and/or text criticism have not succeeded in elucidating these in any generally acceptable manner – nor are they ever likely to do so to everyone’s satisfaction. However, the central question must be, who might have had an interest in the general thrust of the presentation of ‘Messianic events’ in Palestine, all more or less have in common – to be sure, acquiring accretions as the original core went through manifold transformations and additions. Whose interests did the ideological thrust of this central core of material serve?
The orientation we have in mind, despite the variations, should be clear in numerous episodes and various ‘miracle’ stories – perhaps the most important aspect of which was to lighten and deflect the fundamental embarrassment over the Roman execution of Jesus as a subversive and anti-Roman agitator. This, anyhow, has to some extent come to be recognized by a number of scholars starting all the way back in the 20’s with Robert Eisler and in the 50’s with his ‘Christian’ disciple, the Rev. S.G.F. Brandon – and now see, the most recent, New York Times’ best-selling embodiment of it, Reza Azlan’s Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (probably just because its author makes pretense of being “a Muslim”, though admittedly a “Christian” convert). Out of it proceeds the positive portrayal, where possible (it almost always was), of Roman officials and Herodian puppets.
Two of the most obvious examples of these were the patent fraudulence of portraying Pontius Pilate’s high regard for Jesus and “his wife” – naturally unnamed and in a dream no less – as recognizing Jesus as “a Righteous Man”, the most revered concept in Judaism at this time among “Opposition groups” as we have signaled (and now in Kabbalah); and, secondly, the henpecked “Herod the Tetrarch” (it was hard to ‘whitewash’ him), not “Herod”, hesitating to execute John the Baptist but rather recognizing him as a “Righteous Man” or “Zaddik”, too, while the majority of Jews did not – yet being forced to execute John, because of the lascivious dance performed by a woman at his birthday party – no less (what a farce!). Almost any fair-minded person would immediately recognize such portrayals as dissimulation (and the latter is actually contradicted by Josephus’ narrative as we have it).
A few of the other, more obvious non sequiturs in the core materials as we have them – all directed towards the same end – are, for instance, the impossibility of a Jewish Sanhedrin, composed of High Priests, Elders, and Scribes, meeting in the middle of the night of Passover at “the High Priest’s House” to hold a trial of someone for “blasphemy” (as already explained, this should have been punished by “stoning” not crucifixion – anathema to Jews in any case and a specific point of this is made at Qumran, whether applied to “turncoats” or otherwise). Moreover, this retrospectively assimilates the same charge – in Establishment eyes with more cause – made against James which does seem to have resulted in 62 CE, as we have noted, in a “stoning” or, at least, as “apocryphal accounts” might have it, also reflected Mishnaic parameters, a very intentional shove).
Or the presentation of “Peter” as constantly misunderstanding the Master’s teaching – Paul, of course, understands it! – unable to walk on the waters of the Sea of Galilee because his “Faith” was weak (Paul uses the same word in Romans and1 Corinthians to describe those followers of James who were vegetarians or refused “to eat things sacrificed to idols”); or denying the Master “three times” on his death night (this in all “the Gospels”); or the ‘picture’ – and I use the word advisedly – of “the Messiah incarnate” eating congenially with Roman tax collectors (i.e., “Herodians”) and other “Sinners” (probably meant to include “prostitutes” – such as Bernice above? – reflecting the “fornication” language specifically in use and forbidden at Qumran in the key exposition of Ezekiel 44:15), while variously disparaging his own People and family.
How delicious all this must have been for those who created it. Who then would or could have produced the basic core of this kind of material before, like a snowball rolling down a hill, it grew into a massive accumulation of generally like-minded tradition? In the first place, the writers were extremely able craftsmen, who knew their material thoroughly. For instance, as we have just implied, they had to know all the traditions associated with the death of James – even those represented by the later Pseudoclementine Recognitions (ascribed to that same “Clement” mentioned above but designated “Pseudo” in the course of Constantine’s Church Councils), not to mention accounts in the early Church writers about James “being cast down” from the Pinnacle of the Temple (anyone can recognize this in the Gospels) – and this at a very early time indeed.
They also probably knew the traditions about a first post-resurrection appearance to “James, then to all the Apostles, and last of all, as if to an abortion, he also appeared to me”, as Paul so graphically and unabashedly recounts it in 1 Corinthians 15:7–8. In fact, Paul says as much himself, implying there were already “written” documents or “traditions” relating to these things which he had “received” (1 Corinthian 15:3) – though how “the Messiah” could have “appeared to” Paul, who never knew him, must baffle any outside observer as it obviously did his early Church colleagues.
Paul did survive James, though by how many years is debatable. Still, after his final trip to “see Nero” – either the earlier one in Acts in around 60-62 CE when James was killed or, depending on one’s point-of-view, the later one described about one “Saulos” in Josephus around 66 CE; one would have to observe, “Paul” or one or another of his associates like “Titus” (“Timothy”?), “Silas” (“Silvanus”?), “Luke” (“Lucius of Cyrene”?) or even Epaphroditus himself would have had time to produce a rough version of some of the key events we have just been speaking about – incorporating the principles of good “Roman Citizenship”, not Palestinian “Messianism”.
Epaphroditus, who must be seen as a prime candidate for the direction of this kind of activity, as we have seen, not only was charged with having a hand in Nero’s assassination, but also became Domitian”s Secretary for Greek Letters (as he seems to have been for Nero), before he too was executed by him on unspecified charges – probably, like his contemporary above, “Flavius Clemens”, for being a secret “Christian”. One is not imagining these things. They really happened, despite various attempts to obscure them!
The writers we are speaking about would also have known many of the works of Qumran, i.e., “the Dead Sea Scrolls”, as we now have them revealed, particularly “The Damascus Document”, but also “The Community Rule” and “The War Scroll”, which they systematically – sometimes even gleefully – reworked, subverted, and reversed. A prime example of this last is ‘Jesus’’ famous statement: “Every plant which my Heavenly Father has snot planted shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13 and pars.) which patently ‘plays off” the First Column of “The Damascus Document” (so-called because of the reference to “The New Covenant in the Land of Damascus” in it) describing the genesis of “the Community” in terms of “He (God) causing a Root of Planting to grow, etc. etc.”
In passage after passage, as we have signaled, they inverted fundamental Qumran imageries and orientations, turning them back upon their initial creators and reversing their import, capitalizing on their obvious weak points from a ‘public relations’ viewpoint and ridiculing their inward-looking, intolerant, and idiosyncratic nationalism (sincere as it may have been) with devastating results. This was a substantial intellectual feat, which could only have been effected by extremely able and well-informed individuals. But without the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as we now have them, we could never have understood this – suspected it, yes, but never known it – which is why their discovery is of such primary historical importance.
Even the Gospel of John, which differs so markedly from its Synoptic counterparts, as we have been emphasizing, exhibits a difference only in substance, not in kind. The orientation and playful inversion of Qumran of “Scroll” themes are perhaps most glaringly and humorously illustrated by the almost total obfuscation of the report of a “first appearance to James” in Paul and elsewhere in the beloved ‘portrayal’ in them of ‘Jesus’’ post-resurrection appearance along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and his principal Disciples as “dragging their nets full of fishes” – Peter even having “a hundred and fifty-three large fishes” in his “net” which, “though there were so many, yet was not torn” – clearly ‘playing off’ a reference to “nets” and “fishes” in the Qumran document known as The Habakkuk Commentary, applying Habakkuk 1:14-16 to the Roman tax-collecting system and how they “collected taxes” and “conquered nation after nation”.
This is particularly frightening and horrifying when one is aware of what subsequently happened to the “Galilean” fishermen around the shores of the Sea of Galilee under Titus and his colleague, that same Agrippa II above when even, as Josephus describes it, “the whole sea ran red with their blood” – the old, the infirm, and the young being butchered and the rest given over to this same Agrippa to be sold as slaves. Titus, of course, kept back a few to cover his own expenses!
Which returns us to our initial question, who could have written this kind of artful, yet nefarious material in its initial configuration, before it was elaborated upon and developed into a larger literature around the Hellenistic Mediterranean? Who would have had the knowledge to do so?
In the first place, there were quite a few well-educated and intelligent people, many of whom very good writers, in the above circle of individuals, we have been highlighting. For instance, Josephus, as we saw, tells us that Agrippa II made over to him some ninety-nine of his letters to help him rewrite his earlier War in The Antiquities. In addition, he tells us this same Epaphroditus, to whom The Antiquities was dedicated, sponsor his work; it was read appreciatively by “Julius Archelaus”.
If one looks at my work carefully, one will discover that he may have been Paul’s “nephew”, mentioned so mysteriously as Paul’s “sister’s son” with entrée into the Fortress of Antonia itself and who could forewarn the Roman Commander there in Acts 23-24’s account of Paul’s marvelous rescue by Roman troops from the furious Jewish mob at “the Festival of Pentecost” – so critical to Acts’ portrayal of the parameters of the new Pauline “Gentile Mission”, but also to The Damascus Document’s ’sview of “The Reunion of the Desert Camps” to reaffirm the Law – who wanted to kill him for “introducing Gentiles into the Temple” which he did, if not literally, then figuratively.
In this regard, it should be observed that this same mob was not interested in killing James, though it had ample opportunity to do so. On the contrary, according to all early Christian texts, James seems to have been the ‘darling’ of this mob and was rather executed by the Establishment precisely because he was held in such high regard by the People, in particular, these same “Zealots for the Law” referred to so revealingly as the majority of his followers in the last encounter between Paul and James in Acts 21:21 above.
Shall we go further? Paul already refers in the Letter to the Romans to his “kinsman the littlest Herod” (16:10-11 – not to mention “all those in the Household of Aristobulus”), who in all probability was that “Herod the son of Aristobulus” – the latter becoming King of Lesser Armenia, but for the most part residing in Rome after marrying (shall we say ‘on the rebound’?) that Salome who allegedly performed the lascivious dance, ending up with the legendary portrait in Gospel tradition of John the Baptist’s head upon the platter – which ‘Western’ art is so fond of and no one will ever forget!
In addition to Josephus himself, there were all of Philo of Alexandria’s kinsmen and heirs, thoroughly compromised by contacts with Romans and Herodians, and who certainly knew the allegorical approach to Scripture that Philo himself (of the family of the richest Jew in Alexandria, “The Alabarch of Alexandria”) had pioneered. It would not have been a very great step for any of these or even Paul, who is already doing so in his letters, to apply this approach to the literature and conceptualities found in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.
In particular, these kinsmen included, as we have seen, Tiberius Alexander, mentioned in Acts 4:6 along with Caiaphas and Ananus the High Priest, as we saw too above, in one of the few honest portrayals of a Roman official – but he was a Jewish turncoat, directly responsible for the execution of the Jewish Revolutionary Leader “Judas the Galilean”’s two sons in 48 CE and later, as Titus’ adjutant as we saw as well, personally directed the siege of Jerusalem and final destruction of the Temple! For good measure, the Romans even went on to destroy a sister Temple that had been constructed in Heliopolis in Egypt in the Maccabean Period. Someone had to be giving them extremely good intelligence, to remove the root cause of so much of this anti-Roman agitation so decisively!
These events were followed in Egypt under Trajan (98-117) around the time of or after the execution of “Simeon bar Cleophas” – as pictured in Christian sources as the “first cousin” of James (i. e., the son of ‘Jesus’’ “uncle”, but probably the third “brother” since John has “Mary the sister of the mother of the Lord” married to one “Clopas” – how probable was that!) – by the actual eradication of the entire Jewish population in Lower Egypt, perhaps numbering a million and a half souls.
In addition, in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem were other individuals, retired there as hostages, all extremely well-informed and cultivated, such as Antiochus of Commagene and his son, Epiphanes, who had led the “Macedonian Legion” on the Roman side in the Jewish War! Of course, where providing good intelligence was concerned, we have numerous candidates, Josephus himself being a self-admitted informant and interrogator of prisoners. As we saw, Tiberius Alexander is identified by him as a Jewish “backslider” – the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black.
Then there were all the “Herodians”, including Bernice, mistress of the destroyer of the Temple and Tiberius Alexander’s sister-in-law, from two sides, not to mention the “Saulos”, we keep referring to above, who so mysteriously keeps popping in and out of Josephus’ picture of the last days of Jerusalem. There was also another “Maccabean Herodian” resident in Rome in those years, one Tigranes, who was sent by Nero to be King of Armenia. His father, also Tigranes, had been King of Armenia before him and his son became King of Cilicia (sound familiar?). All of these, too, in Josephus’ words, “deserted the Jewish Religion and went over to that of the Greeks”.
Nor do we know what other clique might have been operating around the Roman Governor Felix – married to Bernice’s other sister Drusilla – whose brother Pallas was Nero’s favourite and who seems to have been involved in bringing Paul to Rome. Felix certainly seems to have been responsible for bringing Simon Magus to Rome too (if there was a difference). There is also Gallio, the Roman Governor of Corinth and brother of Nero’s advisor and major-domo, the famous Seneca (whom Nero also finally ordered to commit suicide). Acts 18:17 revels in presenting this Gallio, a historical figure who can actually be identified as Governor of Corinth in 52 CE, as rescuing Paul from the anger of the Jewish mob and having the Head of the Synagogue there, it calls “Sosthenes”, flogged before “the Judgement Seat”.
To be sure, for Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:1, this same Sosthenes is, significantly, one of his closest lieutenants “and brother to the Church of God in Corinth”. This isto say nothing about Seneca himself, whose anti-Jewish feelings evenAugustine feels constrained to remark and to whom a pseudepigraphic correspondence with Paul is attested.
All of these were very literate men. Josephus even identifies his father, the priest “Matthias” (“Matthew”), as a writer of great repute. One must always, of course, also bear in mind that his father might have been the prototype for the renowned “Matthew”, to whom the traditions incorporated in the First Gospel are attributed. In Mark 2:14, for some reason, this “Matthew” is called “Levi the son of Alphaeus” (clearly our “Cleophas” above!) and another of these ubiquitous alleged “tax collectors” (certainly there were many!).
However this may be – as we saw – Josephus has very good contacts in Rome indeed. But with all his flaws, he could not have been responsible for the kind of materials upon which the Gospels as we have them were based – except tangentially – nor any other self-professing Jew, “turncoat” or otherwise. The rhetoric and drumbeat of anti-Semitic polemic are just too strong for that. Besides Josephus is too inordinately proud of his heritage, as he repeatedly demonstrates in his Antiquities of the Jews, to have done this. But the information he possessed could certainly have been used by someone, as could that possess by Agrippa II and his sister Bernice both smarting over the loss of their palaces in Jerusalem – not to mention their sister Drusilla married to Felix, whose son, named presumably after her father Agrippa I, was killed in the eruption of Vesuvius, as we saw, in 79 CE.
We have already noted as well Agrippa II’s anti-“Zealot” (unlike his father who was called “chrestos”) attitude in “The Temple Wall Affair”, when he insisted on watching the Temple sacrifices even while dining on his balcony. Not only did he make over his personal files for Josephus’ use in writing The Antiquities; but it would not be surprising if the diary or travel document, on which the latter part or Acts (the famous “We Document”, so called because of the shift in narrative from third person to first and containing such a flattering portrayal of him, his two sisters, and Felix) is based, had somehow ultimately ended up in his possession. This would be all the more true, if Paul were, in fact, one of his “kinsmen” – the direction in which our data more and more seems to lead us.
Bernice’s nature we know from her connection with Titus, who functioned as Co-Emperor with his father in this period, and the Gospels do present an extremely benign portrait of ‘Jesus’ eating with “tax collectors and Sinners”, two particularly appropriate significations where Agrippa II and Bernice are concerned. “Julius Archelaus”, too, who ended up in wealthy retirement in Rome reading Josephus’ works and who “could vouch for their accuracy”, was not only the former brother-in-law of Bernice, but the son of “the Temple Treasurer” Helcias, whose father and grandfather (the genealogies are unclear here) had been Temple Treasurer before him and close associates of the original Herod. Another of this Julius’ “kinsmen” Antipas had been a close associate of Josephus’ “Saulos” and became Temple Treasurer too, before being executed by “Zealots” as a “Traitor” in the midst of the Uprising!
But the best candidate among this group for producing or sponsoring the production of materials of this kind – if indeed it is possible to trace such materials to a given source – turning what was basically an aggressively apocalyptic Messianism into a more benign and pacifistic one, would be someone of the experience and talents of an Epaphroditus – or even perhaps one or another of Paul’s other traveling companions. The ascription of Acts to Luke basically says something of this kind and Luke himself – if, indeed, the author of the Gospel by that name and Acts – confirms this, telling us how knowledgeable he was in comparing sources. But Epaphroditus was certainly very literate and probably more knowledgeable even than Luke. Plus he had all Josephus’ works, which he had commissioned, to guide him. Then too, if he was a travelling companion of Paul, he probably knew Luke as well.
If he is, indeed, the same individual Paul mentions in Philippians (and elsewhere, possibly too, under the name of “Erastus’) as his closest associate (his “Apostle”) and “fellow worker and fellow soldier” – and we can see no good reason for challenging this – then he knew Paul’s mind intimately, better probably than just about anyone else. He also seems to be extremely adventurous and personally brave, as Josephus attests as well. In fact, Epaphroditus’ execution by Domitian – to say nothing of Domitian’s own assassination by Flavia Domitilla’s servant “Stephen”, obviously in vengeance for something – not to mention Epaphroditus’ involvement (however innocent) in the death of Nero, does raise serious questions as to just what was going on beneath the surface of these events so close to the source of Imperial Power in Rome.
These are some of the things we shall never know, but the Gospels as we have them – whoever produced them – at their core are just too anti-Semitic to have been produced by anyone other than Gentiles. The animus against Jews – Jews of all stripes, even those representing the Leadership of the so-called “Jerusalem Church” (called “Pharisees” in Acts) of James – is just too intense and unremitting to be otherwise. It is no wonder that the effects of this continue to be felt today and grappled with by people who still argue over their cause.
Nor should it be forgotten that both Philo and Josephus addressed works against Alexandrian anti-Semitic agitators, such as “Apion”, who himself like Philo led a “Mission to Gaius” that apparently nullified the one led by Philo, who went to complain about the brutality of Pontius Pilate. That much we know because the greater part of Philo’s work on this subject has since mysteriously gone missing! One wonders why?
“Apion” was actually a known historian at the Museum in Alexandria who invented the ritual murder accusation against Jews! His successor as grammarian there, one “Chaeremon” like Seneca, was also a tutor of Nero. Both had already completely falsified Jewish Old Testament history – falsifications that even sent Josephus into paroxysms of indignation! Paul, too, as we have seen, was a master of such literary invective and allegoricalization.
This is, in fact, the circle of individuals (themselves having a very substantial knowledge of Josephus’ works) to whom one might attribute the core of material that finally ends up – with numerous variations, expansions, and accretions – in what we call “the Gospels” today (if, in fact, one can attribute such a core to any known individual as opposed to a cadre of unknown transmitters). It is certainly the circle that produced Acts! Any of these individuals and/or combinations thereof, could have been involved.
These are the problems and issues one must weigh in attempting to determine who might have been responsible for turning Palestinian “Messianism: on its ear and reversing its most precious and fundamental concepts and ethos into their mirror opposite.
Author’s note: much of what follows is basically excerpted from pp. 788-801 of my James the Brother of Jesus (Viking/Faber/Penguin, 1997-98); but it has been ''ripped off'' so often and so much (meaning, without attribution) that I felt it well to repeat the gist of it here in more popular (though admittedly still complex) form.