Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus


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He was wrestling with the catastrophe that had overcome his people. Throughout the narrative, however, there is the clear message that certain actions brought about the displeasure of God and led to the punishment of his people at the hands of the Romans.

These actions included especially the murder of innocents War 4. While the concept of pollution was also familiar to Josephus's non-Jewish readers or audience members Mason , n. For the purpose was ultimately not retribution but correction. There was a special relationship between God and Israel that precluded the complete abandonment of his people, as Antiquities in particular makes clear Spilsbury Thus, for example, Josephus has Moses declare to the Israelites following their rebellion at the borders of Canaan, 'For this reason He would not destroy all, nor would He annihilate their race, which He held in greater honor than all the rest of humankind' Ant.

The proscribed time of punishment and the rebuilding of the temple then fuelled the hopes and expectations that now God's displeasure was also temporary. Moreover, while confirming the special status of his own people, he hinted at the temporary nature of the Romans' own empire Ant. For the corollary was that eventually God would no longer be on the side of the Romans and the rod of rule would pass again to another nation.

For Josephus, then, the nagging question of God was to be answered by viewing the destruction of the temple within the framework of salvation history presented in the Jewish Scriptures. The catastrophe that had befallen the Jewish nation could only be understood as a further outworking of the sin-punishment paradigm that was laid out in the book of Deuteronomy and applied to the history of Israel by the prophets.

This scriptural worldview allowed Josephus to maintain the conviction that the Jewish people were special to the God of Israel and that their present lot was provisional. For Josephus, however, Scripture provided not only a framework for the unfolding of history but also a rich resource of prophetic pronouncements that underlined the appropriateness of viewing the destruction as part of a Heilsgeschichte. At the heart of this second use of Scripture lay Josephus's characterisation of himself as a sort of prophet, 26 a latter-day Jeremiah, 27 and his work as a natural continuation of the work of the prophets in composing history.

Josephus never claims to have had this privilege himself. That is, beyond their contribution to the development of the worldview described above, the prophecies in Scripture were also able to be interpreted in such a way that they could be applied to the present and near future. Thus Josephus encourages his readers to pick up the book of Daniel 'to learn about the hidden things that are to come' Ant. He also presents the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as having foreseen the destruction of the temple in AD Underlying this expectation was, of course, a certain confidence that the destruction did not fall outside the control or plan of the God of Israel.

In the aftermath of the war, therefore, connecting the earlier destruction with the tragedy of AD 70 must have provided a level of comfort and reassurance, as well as a further answer to the nagging question of God. We should not necessarily limit this phenomenon of 'charismatic exegesis' Aune ; Gaston to the post-eventum reality when Josephus sat down to compose his account of the revolt. Thus, also the destruction was said to have been portended not only by signs and wonders in the heavens War 2.

Josephus reports that, 'there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, and their own right hand should pollute the temple of God' War 4. The circulation of this latter oracle receives likely independent confirmation in the writings of Tacitus Hist.

How these oracles became popular is unclear, but we can perhaps imagine that a priestly figure such as Josephus himself shared his charismatic exegesis of a scriptural passage with those under his influence. When the events that shortly transpired began to give credence to the veracity of the prediction, its popularity and circulation increased. In other cases, however, the use of Scripture to mediate present and future events was not as convincing.

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In his mouth Josephus places reminiscences of Jeremiah's earlier prophecy ; cf. While the historicity of such a figure is hard to determine, Josephus's own narratives provide a setting within which a Jesus ben Ananias fits. While this Jesus may have been dismissed at the time as a lunatic, he was not alone in his conviction that present and future events could be interpreted and understood through careful reading of Scripture. Perhaps the problem with a 'foolish peasant' such as Jesus ben Ananias was not that his message was not believed by the leaders, but that he broke a priestly or aristocratic monopoly on the application of scriptural prophecies and principles to contemporary events.

In any case, we can recognise in summary that both before and after the destruction, Josephus and his contemporaries made sense of the tragedy by appealing to Scripture. There was true comfort to be found in the conviction that their God was at work in history for their ultimate benefit, even when the present seemed to belie their confidence in this reality. There was always hope.


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Jesus on the fall of Jerusalem. The picture both pre -and- post - eventum that can be drawn from Josephus provides a valuable context within which also to analyse certain sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that provide evidence of similar efforts to articulate what God was doing in AD For the purposes of this article I will leave aside the question of exactly whose efforts these were - Jesus himself or the gospel writers - and will simply consider the overall themes that emerge, noting the contact points with Josephus where appropriate.

I hope to demonstrate thereby that these predictions flow out of a Heilsgeschichtliche worldview similar to that of Josephus and need not be dismissed, even by those who principally reject the possibility of prophecy, as vaticinia ex eventum. The simplest explanation was for Jesus the same as we observed above for Josephus: 'simply put, Jerusalem fell for its sins' Klawans But more than that can also be said. For Jesus also views the destruction as the fulfilment of previous prophecy. Thus, in the Lukan version of his well-known discourse on the Mount of Olives, Jesus follows his prediction of the siege of Jerusalem with this assessment, 'For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written' Lk Precisely why this punishment was deserved is made clearer in the other predictions that were ascribed to Jesus.

Above all, the message is that God was punishing the Jewish leaders for their rejection and violent treatment of the prophets. Thus, in a passage recorded with almost identical wording in Matthew and Luke, Jesus cries out:. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.

In the gospel of Matthew, this lament occurs in the context of Jesus' pronouncement of seven woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Here the charge is made even more explicit when Jesus says:. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Mt In the immediate context it is clear that the blood of the prophets is particularly in view vv. This charge was not novel. Rather, its roots could be found in a scriptural pattern of history. Thus the Chronicler also linked the first fall of Jerusalem with the treatment of the prophets:. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.

But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. The same explanation is given in the book of Jeremiah Jr ; ; ; cf.

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Horsley , which held an important place not only for Josephus, but also for Matthew Mt ; ; ; cf. Konradt ,esp. In the 1st century, even apart from its scriptural resonances, the charge may have been all the more distressing given the recent killings of such pseudo- prophetic figures as Theudas and the Egyptian, to whom some, at least, credited genuine prophetic abilities.

Closely linked to this emphasis on the killing of the prophets is the theme of innocent or righteous blood, the spilling of which is condemned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures Gn ; ; Lv b; Dt ; ; Jr ; ; ; Jl ; Lm , and connected with the outpouring of the wrath of God Lv ; Nm ; Dt ; , 43; Ps Josephus also made this link, while judging those murders that occurred within the temple grounds as particularly heinous and thus especially culpable Ant.

War 4. In the case of Jesus' prediction, the emphasis is not only on the death of the prophets in the distant past, including Zechariah who was killed between the temple and the altar, 49 but also on the continuing and forthcoming tragedies Peels These culminate, of course, in the coming death of Jesus himself, which stands, particularly in Matthew's gospel, as the climax of the shedding of righteous blood.

Matthew highlights this by employing as inter-text Lamentations , which provides the reason for the first destruction: 'But it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous' cf. Moffitt Jesus is represented by Matthew as 'the righteous man' par excellence , which is developed in the narrative through the dream of Pilate's wife , Pilate's hand-washing , and the people's response Luke, on the other hand, emphasises the related theme of the rejection of God's messengers, also culminating with Jesus, in keeping with Luke's emphasis on Jesus' status as prophet , ; , 22; ; Jesus' coming was, therefore, the ultimate visitation, which was supposed to bring peace, see v.

Nevertheless, they share the foundation upon which they constructed their explanations, namely that the first tragedy, as it was processed and described in Scripture, provided the key to understanding the second. Within the context of Matthew in particular this is understood as a foreshadowing of Jesus' departure from the temple and the rending of the temple veil during his crucifixion, both of which served as signposts that the temple was now forsaken. It is also the prophetic language of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. In the former book of prophecy, the condemnation of the idolaters who profaned the temple is connected directly with the departure of the glory of God ; prior to the judgement of the city In the book of Jeremiah as well, the prophet writes: 'I [ God ] have forsaken my house, I have abandoned my heritage, I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies' ; cf.

The divine desertion of the temple with its eventual ruin was thus rooted in the prophetic writings dealing with the first destruction and to be expected in the events leading up to the second. It is not surprising, therefore, to find this a common theme amongst Jesus' contemporaries. Josephus, as we mentioned briefly above, describes the departure of the glory of God from the temple on multiple occasions War 2.

In fact, the story circulated so widely that the Roman historian Tacitus imagined the scene vividly in his own account of the revolt. But despite the overall doom and gloom of Jesus' messages concerning the coming destruction of the temple and the city, not all was lost. In the scriptural prophecies elements of judgement and salvation were frequently placed side by side Jr ; ff. Here then he speaks of a reversal, of the return of God's presence, at such a time as repentance is shown and the final prophet, Jesus himself, accepted.

Far from being a definite rejection of Israel, as many have suggested e. Garland , , ; Newport , Jesus' words presuppose that the special relationship between Israel and her God continued to determine the events of history, including future restoration cf. This is consistent with the message of other early Christian texts that the church was the new Israel not by displacing the Jews, but by fulfilling the original purpose of Israel, namely to bring the Gentiles into covenant with God Eph ; Heb ; ; ; 1 Clem. Thus, for Jesus as for Josephus, the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was unquestionably a watershed in the Heilsgeschichte of the relationship between the God of Israel and his chosen people, but it was by no means its telos.

The outcome of considering Jesus' predictions as they have been recorded is the recognition that the Jesus who appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke has a consistent understanding of the coming destruction, a viewpoint that is, moreover, fully recognisable within its 1st century setting.

The meaning of the events of AD 70 provided by Jesus is as Jewish as that given by the historian Josephus. And why should it not have been? Differences between them are mainly technological. Since bandits are generally regarded as heroes to the common folk, they are 16 expected to maintain certain accepted standards of piety and conduct, but the institution of banditry is not itself engendered by religious fervor. Nonetheless, according to Josephus, 17 messianic hopes came to be attached to some of these figures at the time of the death of Herod and during the Great Revolt.

Finally, the most extreme form of violent resistance 18 is the revolt. It is generally more widespread, long-lived, and usually more organized 19 than riots, and more comprehensive and public that social banditry. The Hasmonaean 16E. Hobsbawm, ibid. The messianic nature of the claims of these figures is taken seriously by Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus San Francisco: Harper and Row, , , who note the significant fact that Josephus distinguishes between brigands, even popular brigands with large followings, and figures who attempted to claim for themselves the royal crown.

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Other scholars have denied the messianic pretensions of these rebels. Morton Stern, review of M. Hengel, Die Zeloten, JRS 52 : , who claims that these were merely charismatic leaders, without messianic pretensions. None of its leaders, however charismatic, presented themselves, or were received as Messiahs, unlike Bar Kokhbah who led a second revolt less than a century later.

Later Jewish tradition identifies this same figure as the messiah, whose birth brought the destruction of the Temple jBer 5a, 12 , perhaps preserving the title he had borne in the context of 1st century C. Palestinian Judaism; see Hengel, The Zealots, The difference between rebellions and revolutions is controversial, since the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. In other cases, the terms have been distinguished by their goals: Hannah Arendt, On Revolution New York: Viking Press, , 14, argues that the goal of revolution is the establishment of a new government system, while rebellions simply seek liberation.

In non-violent resistance, the subjugated peoples eschew militant confrontation with their overlords, but nonetheless refuse to compromise their distinctive beliefs and practices. Nonviolent responses to oppression can include a variety of activities, from peaceful assemblies and verbal protests, to withholding taxes, to submitting to martyrdom.

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The Jews offered effective nonviolent resistance when Caligula attempted to have his image placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Coming before Petronius, the Roman governor 20 of Syria, a delegation of Jews pleaded that they would prefer to die, rather than to have their Temple desecrated. They then offered themselves, their wives and children, to the Roman swords. The display had its desired effect, and Petronius implored Caligula to relent.


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  • In other cases, the Jews actually gave their lives in the cause of resistance. In some cases, the message is quite explicit. A propaganda pamphlet calling for the masses to immediately take up their swords against their overlords can be identified with the advocates of violent resistance with a good measure of certainty. What should be made, however, of a 20See Josephus, War 2.

    Does this imply passive acceptance of execution, or the mobilization of troops in a cause that appears doomed? This is very much the case with some of the literature that has come down to us from Greco-Roman Judaism: it is sometimes impossible to determine what kind of action, exactly, the authors and the groups they represent were advocating. Rather, it consisted of a variety of groups and unaligned individuals that shared a few characteristics in common, the most prominent being their goal: the liberation of their nation from foreign domination.

    Undoubtedly, these movements proliferated among the Jews since the days of the Babylonian Exile. The Jews had a deep sense of national destiny, and they held firm to the vision, transmitted by their greatest prophets, that Judah would ultimately be exalted to a place of glory among the nations of the world.

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    With such a belief deeply rooted in their self-consciousness, the Jews could not be content to exist forever as the vassals of mightier and more wicked nations. Could such hopes be nurtured, without accompanying expectations of national liberation? In Persia, where enmity against the Greeks was intense, a doctrine was widely disseminated that sovereignty would eventually, inevitably return to Persia. This idea was incorporated into several prophetic works, the most important of these being the Oracle of Hystaspes and the Bahman Yasht. The great god informs the seer that heaven had ordained three eastern monarchies, followed by a fourth western usurper.

    This usurper would be deposed by a fifth glorious eastern kingdom. In 25 Ptolemaic Egypt, resistance against hellenization was fierce, and frequently broke out in revolt. Here, the natives composed numerous texts designed to show the superiority of Egyptian religion and culture to the Greek, and even went so far as to claim that the Greek myths were but inferior derivations from Egyptian prototypes.

    The Egyptians cast much 26 of their political propaganda in the form of prophetic utterances, as in the case of the Sibylline Oracles. Also, see Chapter 2 of this study. Douglas Garman, 2d ed. London: Paul Elek, , ; and John J. It is possible that these works helped to inspire a violent series of Egyptian rebellions in B. Although often their rhetoric was directed against their own ruling classes, the prophets sometimes took occasion to strike out against their foreign overlords and encourage Jewish resistance against their beliefs and policies.

    DeuteroIsaiah, who wrote near the end of the Babylonian Captivity, is a particularly apt example. This prophet lampoons the gods of Babylon Isa A little later, both Haggai and Zechariah prophesied about the emancipation of Judah from foreign rule, led by the Davidide Zerubbabel.

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    On its similarity to the pesharim, see F. See Eddy, The King is Dead, , They include such texts as the Book of Daniel, the 31 Animal Apocalypse and Similitudes of 1 Enoch, the Jewish Sibylline Oracles, the Qumran War Scroll, and several other texts that will be discussed in the following chapters. Such oracular activity had great propaganda value. Indeed, Josephus places a large part of the blame for the Great Revolt on prophetic figures.

    Several of these works belong to the apocalyptic genre. For a recent discussion of the characteristics of this genre, see John J. Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, , n. The actual basis for such a distinction is tenuous, since the so-called oracular prophets e. It should also be noted that Horsley and Hanson identify these prophets with the illiterate classes of society, and claim that the literate groups have left no prophetic literature They do not explain how they know that these prophetic figures were illiterate, nor how they know that surviving apocalyptic or pseudepigraphic texts could not have been the products of some such figures.

    He led a group of followers to the wilderness, taking their possessions with them, where he promised to part the Jordan River and lead them across Ant. Obviously, Theudas had 33 been influenced by the story of the Exodus, and wished to recreate it under his own leadership. The Romans attacked and dispersed his band, while the Egyptian himself escaped. While such sporadic outbreaks of prophetic activity 36 cannot be directly linked to the Great Revolt, Josephus does state that some of these figures joined together with the brigands, thus linking overtly religious and overtly political resistance War 2.

    Indeed, Josephus writes that during the siege of question. Aune recognizes that apocalyptic literature is a kind of prophetic activity so too G. Kittel, TDNT, s. Meyer, esp. This conclusion, however, does not have to be inferred from such incidents alone. Josephus explicitly remarks on the importance of prophetic interpretation for the Jewish resistance: 38 What more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world.

    It is certain, therefore, that prophecy served effectively as revolutionary propaganda in the Second Temple period--so effectively, in fact, that it could encourage widespread Jewish participation in a war against vastly superior Roman forces. But prophecy was not the tool of violent rebels only. Prophetic teachings could encourage millennialistic hopes among advocates of either violent or non-violent resistance. Theudas, as we have seen, based his ministry on the Exodus story, and other prophets were no doubt influenced by biblical traditions.

    The signs that they promised to perform, while serving to vindicate their exegesis, would not have made a completely un-biblical message palatable to the Jews, who had come to judge the truth of prophecy by its compatibility with accepted Scripture. We will be discussing this oracle in Chapter 6. Also, the Testament of Moses predicts that Taxo would 40 encourage his sons to submit to martyrdom, because of his belief that their death would invoke the vengeance of God and the advent of his kingdom.

    An activist eschatological expectation allotted a participatory role to the Jews in bringing about their deliverance. Usually, this role was envisioned as a war against the nations, conducted with human weapons and divine aid. Such a description could apply to a great variety of movements, by no means limited to the Judaeo- Christian tradition, although the Judaeo-Christian examples have been particularly well-documented.

    For these groups, the millennium is wholly the creation of God, and the task of the believer is merely to prepare for it through good works and evangelism. Millennialists of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, moreover pacifist and activist alike share a characteristic which makes them quite cogent for our study: they all depend heavily on the Book of Daniel.

    On early Jewish millennialism, see especially S. On the eschatological vision of the Testament of Moses, see further J. No such ideology existed among the ancient Jews. The question was not whether violent action would be taken against the oppressors, but only who would take it: God alone or the Jews themselves. A non-violent eschatology, 44 which did not involve the destruction of the oppressors, is completely unattested in this period. In other texts, however, this may not be the case. The author may have expected the eschaton to come at some predetermined time that lay yet in the future as in the case of the Damascus Document , or after some still- 45 unrealized event, such as the coming of a supernatural deliverer as in the Similitudes of Enoch.

    In these cases, the envisioned eschatological response of the Jews need not correspond with their present-age response to oppression. A text such as the War Scroll that advocates that the Jews take militant action against their oppressors in the eschaton may say nothing about what its readers were supposed to do in the present age.

    Thus, 46 44Several such figures will be observed in the texts treated in this study. Batya and Chaim Rabin [Oxford: Oxford University Press, ], 15 and others as a rule for the conduct of an actual war against the nations. While most specialists have been reluctant to accept this identification, nonspecialists and scholars in other fields have been quick to sieze upon it.

    See, e. At the same time, there were texts that foretold that the Jews 47 would be miraculously delivered in the eschaton without any action on their own part. We cannot conclude, however, that the authors of such texts were advocates of present-age non-violence. There are, in fact, four possible combinations of present response and eshatological role: a non-violent present response and passive role in the eschaton, a non- violent present response and an active role in the eschaton, a violent present response and an active role in the eschaton, and a violent present response and a passive role in the eschaton.

    The combination of a non-violent response to oppression in the present age and a passive role in the eschaton seems to have been the position of the early Christian movement at the very least, in its Pauline variety. In Pauline eschatology, Christians would be 47We will consider the social effects of such texts further in Chapter 4.

    James H. Charlesworth and Craig A. See also Rom Such a scenario appears in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although a "Discourse to the Greeks on Hades" is present in Whiston's translation, few if any scholars today believe that Josephus wrote this work. This is why parallels with NT phrases have been italicized at Wheaton's on-line library above.

    I am informed of the following by Stephen Carlson: After posting to Ioudaios, I received two replies copied herein that state that it is well-settled that Josephus did not write this discourse. From: "Matthew A. Kraus williams. The work is lost except for a rather lengthy fragment preserved in John of Damscus' Sacra Parallela which includes the excerpt on Hades and the comparison between Minos, Rhadamanthos, and Christ.

    The myth of Josephan authorship stems from Photius' Bibliotheca 48, which refers to a peri tou pantou of Josephus. However, Photius himself doubted the attribution to Josephus and cited a marginal note indicated a presbyter of Rome named Gaius as the author. As the marginal note claims that Gaius also wrote the Labyrinth which is another title for Hippolytus' Philosophumena, the gloss essentially got the authorship right, but confused the names Gaius and Hippolytus.

    The fragment is readily available on the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae cd-rom under Hippolytus, on the universe around line More than a suggestion: for just the reasons noted by your questioner. Whiston early 18th cent could only argue for authenticity by virtue of his premise that josephus was a Christian and became bishop of Jerusalem.

    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus
    Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus

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