Monthly Archives: November 2009

γεννηθη του παρθενου

(Virgin Born)

Romulus and Remus (traditionally c. 771 BCΕ–c. 717 BCΕ and c. 771 BCΕ–c. 753 BCΕ respectively) are the traditional founders of Rome, appearing in Roman mythology as the twin sons of the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia, fathered by the god of war, Mars. According to the tradition recorded as history by Plutarch and Livy, Romulus served as the first King of Rome.

Romulus slew Remus with a shovel over a dispute about which one of the two brothers had the support of the local deities to rule the new city and give it his name. The name they gave the city was Rome. Supposedly, Romulus had stood on one hill and Remus another, and a circle of birds flew over Romulus, signifying that he should be king. After founding Rome, Romulus not only created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate, but also added citizens to his new city by abducting the women of the neighboring Sabine tribes, which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans into one people. Romulus would become one of ancient Rome’s greatest conquerors, adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome.

Romulus finally “disappears” one day during a storm and his followers assume he ascended to heaven

Others think that it was neither in the temple of Vulcan nor when the senators alone were present that he disappeared, but that he was holding an assembly of the people outside the city near the so called Goat’s Marsh, when suddenly strange and unaccountable disorders with incredible changes filled the air; the light of the sun failed, and night came down upon them, not with peace and quiet, but with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain from every quarter, during which the multitude dispersed and fled, but the nobles gathered closely together; and when the storm had ceased, and the sun shone out, and the multitude, now gathered together again in the same place as before, anxiously sought for their king, the nobles would not suffer them to inquire into his disappearance nor busy themselves about it, but exhorted them all to honour and revere Romulus, since he had been caught up into heaven, and was to be a benevolent god for them instead of a good king. The multitude, accordingly, believing this and rejoicing in it, went away to worship him with good hopes of his favour; but there were some, it is said, who tested the matter in a bitter and hostile spirit, and confounded the patricians with the accusation of imposing a silly tale upon the people, and of being themselves the murderers of the king.

– Plutarch, The Life of Romulus

If we still lived in the Roman empire and all spoke Latin, there would be no doubts about the historicity of Romulus and Remus; born between the union of a god (Mars) and a lifelong virgin, with Romulus ascending to heaven after his work on Earth had been completed.

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Posted by on November 30, 2009 in remus, rome, romulus, virgin birth


Hanukkah and the Book of Daniel

I wrote about when the book of Daniel was written in an earlier post, so I’ll just summarize it here.

Daniel was written during the earlier stages of the Maccabean revolt of 167 – 164 BCE, but the character(s) were placed in an earlier stage of history to make it seem as though the events of the Maccabean revolt were foretold during the exile. This is a classic literary trope; of commenting about contemporary events via a past scenario. The “abomination causing desolation” is the erection of an idol of Zeus in the temple (Dan 9:27, 11:31) that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV set up in 167 BCE. It should be noted that “abomination” in Hebrew can also mean “idol”.

Daniel’s predictions about how the rebellion would end failed, however. After Alexander the Great conquered a large portion of the “known world”, his empire was split after he died. The southern part of his empire was ruled by his general Ptolemy and his progeny, and the northern (but more accurately “eastern”, but for Daniel it’s north of Judaea) part was ruled by his general Seleucus and his progeny. This is ostensibly described well by Dan in chapter 11. Dan predicts that Antiochus (the “king of the north” i.e. a Seleucid) would be killed by a Ptolemaic king (the “king of the south”). Dan also predicts that after Antiochus sets up the statue of Zeus and stops the sacrificial system (Dan 12:11-12) — which Antiochus did in 167 BCE — that there will be 1,335 days until the world ends, which is approximately three years.

Antiochus actually died from illness, and the revolt lasted until 164 BCE when the Maccabees drove out the Greek forces/idols from Judea (as well as the Hellenized Jews who rejected circumcison) and rededicated (hanukkah in Hebrew) the temple.

54 According to the time, and according to the day wherein the heathens had defiled it, in the same was it dedicated anew with canticles, and harps, and lutes, and cymbals.

55 And all the people fell upon their faces, and adored, and blessed up to heaven, him that had prospered them.

56 And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and they offered holocausts with joy, and sacrifices of salvation, and of praise.

57 And they adorned the front of the temple with crowns of gold, and escutcheons, and they renewed the gates, and the chambers, and hanged doors upon them.

58 And there was exceeding great joy among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was turned away.

59 And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness.

– 1 Maccabees 4:56–59

A similar event happens in 132 CE. The Roman emperor Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the temple mount which incited the Bar-Kokhba revolt. The results of which eerily match Jesus’ prediction in Mark 13. Another “abomination causing desolation” standing where it doesn’t belong (statue of Jupiter, Mark 13:14), the complete destruction of the temple in 135 CE at the failure of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (Mark 13:1-2), Bar-Kokhba being called the messiah/christ for driving out the Romans but was ultimately a false christ/messiah (Mark 13:5-6), Christians being persecuted because of Bar-Kokhba’s messanic claims (Mark 13:9). And then, after the failure of the revolt, the Jews are evicted from Judaea (Mark 13:14 those who are in Judea flee to the mountains) and the area was renamed to “Palestine” by Hadrian.

Could the gospel narratives also be following the same theme of Daniel? As in, a contemporaneous account retrojected into the past?

Of course, the writer of Mark gives it away by having Jesus break the fourth wall. Why else would he say “let the reader understand” (Mark 13:14)? “Jesus” is not actually talking to Peter, et. al. in this pericope. The writer – talking through Jesus – is talking to the reader of this narrative, describing a situation that’s contemporary to the writer/reader (either 70 CE or 132 CE). “This generation” (Mark 13:30) is not Peter and company, but the reader.

What makes things more suspicious is that there’s no evidence of any Christians knowing any narrative gospels prior to the Bar-Kokhba revolt. Just like there’s no evidence of any Jews knowing of a “great prophet” named Daniel prior to the Maccabean rebellion. Jesus son of Sirach, writing c. 180 BCE lists a bunch of “great men” in his “Wisdom of ben Sirach” (chapters 44-50) but doesn’t include Daniel. 1 Maccabees, writing about 80 years later c. 100 BCE lists many of the same as Jesus b.Sirach, but includes Daniel as well (1 Macc 2:60). Which is why Daniel is ketuvim and not nevi’im.

The Tisha B’Av of Judaism in 135 CE might be the Hanukkah of Christianity, with Mark playing the role of Daniel.


The Messiah son of Joseph, Herald of the Messiah son of David

Details about him are not found until much later, but he has an established place in the apocalypses of later centuries, such as the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel, and in the midrash literature—in Saadia’s description of the future (Emunot we-De’ot, ch. viii.) and in that of Hai Gaon (Ṭa’am Zeḳenim, p. 59). According to these, Messiah b. Joseph will appear prior to the coming of Messiah ben David; he will gather the children of Israel around him, march to Jerusalem, and there, after overcoming the hostile powers, reestablish the Temple-worship and set up his own dominion. Thereupon Armilus, according to one group of sources, or Gog and Magog, according to the other, will appear with their hosts before Jerusalem, wage war against Messiah ben Joseph, and slay him. His corpse, according to one group, will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; according to the other, it will be hidden by the angels with the bodies of the Patriarchs, until Messiah ben David comes and resurrects him (comp. Jew. Encyc. i. 682, 684 [§§ 8 and 13]; comp. also Midr. Wayosha’ and Agadat ha-Mashiaḥ in A. Jellinek, B. H. i. 55 et seq., iii. 141 et seq.).

This is from the Wikipedia article on the Messiah ben Joseph. While the wiki article says that it’s unknown where these “two messiahs” tradition comes from, there’s actually a prescedent for it found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predate both the Jesus of Christianity and Rabbinic Midrash.

Before getting to that though, here is Zechariah 4:11-14

Zechariah 4:11-14 (New International Version)

11 Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”

12 Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”

13 He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.

14 So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”

I should note that the word for “anointed” here, at least in the LXX which I can read better than Hebrew, is not christ and doesn’t have any grammatical relationship to the verb ΧΡΙΩ::chrio (I anoint) from where the noun ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (christ) comes from. So it might not refer to any sort of “messiah”. But it is still fishy.

There’s also Jeremiah 33

17 For thus saith the LORD: There shall not be cut off unto David a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;

18 neither shall there be cut off unto the priests the Levites a man before Me to offer burnt-offerings, and to burn meal-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually

Here we have a root from David (kingly) and a root from the Levites (priestly).

In the Qumran community (popularly referred to as the Essenes), from before the Christian era, their “Damascus Document” (CD) has a possible reference to two messiahs. The phrasing says “anointed of Aaron and Israel” (CD 12:23-13:1) hinting at a priestly (Aaron) messiah and a separate kingly (Israel) messiah. In 4QFlor 10-12 it says “He is a branch of David who will arise with the interpreter of the law who shall arise with Zion in the last days”. Here we have again the branch of David and a separate personage who is an interpreter of the law. Implying that this secondary messiah is a priest.

I should point out a little history of this Qumran group. They came into being due to the Maccabean rebellion where the “legitimate” priestly line was kicked out by the Maccabees because this priestly line allowed the “abomination causing desolation” to stand where it didn’t belong. The ensuing revolt of the Maccabees not only incited rabid monotheism among the Jews, but removed the prior priestly line, ousted Greek hegemony, created the celebration of Hannukah, and led to the destruction of the Samaritan temple (of course, the Jews themselves would suffer a similar fate with their temple almost 200 years later at the hands of the Romans).

The Qumran group reviled the ousting of the high priest, so their writings are highly “sectarian” and might not be representative of mainstream Judaism (but neither was Christianity). Their focus was on returning to the glory of the legitimate priestly line, not the ones set up by the Maccabees. Therefore, their messainism and eschatology would include both a king and a legitimate priest to replace the illegitimate priests of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans and those newbie Sadducees.

Now I hypothesize that the earliest Christians knew of both of these messiahs. One a son of David, and the other a son of Joseph. Obviously in the gospel narratives, Jesus is referred to as both. He’s of the lineage of David, but is also the son of “a” Joseph. Thirdly, he is also the son of god. I see this as an attempt by Christians to harmonize the various messainisms of Judaism (son of both David and Joseph) and Greek/pagan views of authentic kingship (being a son of god).

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Posted by on November 25, 2009 in essenes, messiah, qumran, son of david, son of god, son of joseph, two messiahs


The Documentary Hypothesis

In truth, a layperson would be hard pressed to find a single real priest unable to name the four great streams of authorship behind the Torah’s sources: JEDP. And yet this knowledge simply does not find itself transmitted to the two groups that really matter: the great masses of religious people who have no detailed knowledge of religion and whose lives would be infinitely richer if they were freed from religion’s stupefying influence, and atheists who quite erroneously believe that a) owing to its mostly fictional nature, there is nothing inherently interesting in the Bible; b) feel that the way to counter a religious argument is to point out broad contradictions in the Bible without providing a concrete demonstration of how those contradictions arose and why they are useful in challenging faith

Alexi Amnirov

What he’s referring to here is what’s called the “Documentary Hypothesis”. That there were four main streams of thought/authors who wrote what ended up as the Pentateuch/Law/Torah. In other words, the first five books of the Hebrew bible supposedly authored by Moses.

“J” stands for “Jahwist” or “Yahwist”. These sections of the Torah are the sections that spell out the Tetragrammaton (Greek: four letters) or YHWH whenever referring to the god of Israel.

In this source God is called YHWH. Known as the tetragrammaton, scholars transliterate it as Yahweh (or as Jahweh, after the German spelling: Jahweh), and in earlier times as Jehovah. In most English translations of the Bible the tetragrammaton is replaced with the LORD. Note that the “w” sound in Yahweh is not present in modern Hebrew, as it was in earlier forms.

In J, YHWH is an anthropomorphic figure, fond of Edenic walks in the “cool of the evening,” killing animals so as to clothe Eve and Adam with their pelts, able to eat the food Abram offers Him, visible face-to-face (as in the theophany on Mt. Sinai, Ex. 24:10-11), and burying Moses with his own hands. YHWH can be reasoned with, as in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abram haggles with YHWH over the fate of the cities. Similarly, during the exodus, YHWH. incensed by the Israelites, offers to destroy them all, and raise Moses’ descendants instead, but is dissuaded by Moses. YHWH then relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened(Exodus 32: 14).

YHWH does not correspond to the normative picture of a benign God in heaven; he can be dangerous, as when he attempts to kill his newly-chosen prophet Moses at the inn (see Zipporah at the inn), potentially malign, as in the story of the Binding of Isaac, or arbitrarily withholding, preventing Moses from entering Canaan without giving reasons.

J has a particular fascination for traditions concerning Judah, including those concerning its relationship with its neighbour Edom. J also supports Judah against Israel, for example suggesting that Israel acquired Shechem (its capital city) by massacring the inhabitants. J supports the priests descended from Aaron who were established in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.

In attempting to identify the author of the Jahwist text, some orthodox Christians and Jews suggest that this original “core” of the Torah was written by Moses himself, and that the obviously post-schism pro-Judah material was added by the JE redactor to balance the pro-Israel material of the Elohist. This would put the origin of the original Jahwist text somewhere around 1300-1500 BC. This is not accepted by non-fundamentalist scholars, who on the basis of internal evidence date the Yahwist sources to the period in which the Aaronic priesthood was established and entrenched in their control over the Jerusalem temple, in the Monarchical period.

“E” stands for “Elohist”. These sections of the Torah are the sections that write “El” whenever referring to the god of Israel. Which might be more appropriate considering the name Israel.

In this source God’s name is always presented as Elohim until the revelation of God’s name to Moses, after which God is referred to as Yahweh. E treats God as a human-like figure, capable of regret, and appearing in person at events.

E has a particular fascination for traditions concerning biblical Israel and its heroes such as Joshua and Ephraim (a son of Joseph, and the tribe to which Israel’s king belonged). E supports Israel against Judah, in the case of Shechem claiming that it was purchased rather than won via a massacre.

E supports the Levitical priests of Shiloh (who were not descended from Aaron), who were not given authority in Israel, both against the new priesthood set up in Israel, and against the priesthood of Judah (which priests were descended from Aaron). E tries to show Aaron and his supporters in a bad light, for example via the story of the golden calf (which also happened to be the symbol of the new version of the religion set up in Israel).

“D” stands for “Deuteronomist”. This is obviously the author of Deuteronomy and all of the author’s type of thoughts sprinkled throughout the Torah. This author is rabidly monotheistic (or, the more accurate terminology would be either henotheistic or monolatrous). This author gives away his non-authentic agenda by the very name: deuteronomy, which is Greek for second laws.

In Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomist’s literary style is that of elegant flashback told by Moses, and so much of the narrative is scattered and disordered. Nevertheless, when put together in sequence, the narrative mostly parallels those of JE and the priestly source, though it begins only at the Ten Commandments. Since the narrative is presented as the recollections of Moses, it obviously cannot contain memories of events prior to him; but the narrative’s starting with the Ten Commandments (rather than with an earlier event in Moses’ life) may simply be a convenient literary device, serving to imply that that is the moment that things which are worth remembering began. The Deuteronomist generally exhibits a stance similar to those of the Jahwist and Elohist, so it may be that the Deuteronomist’s work was intended to be read in parallel with JE, rather than instead of it.

In contrast to the priestly source, the Deuteronomist cuts out the obviously pro-Aaronid tales, such as that of Aaron’s flowering staff and that of the appointment of the Levites, but includes the story of the Golden Calf, which is the main story from JE that casts Aaron in a negative light. Indeed, Aaron is cast even more negatively in the Deuteronomist version of the Golden Calf story. The Deuteronomist also emphasizes the negativity of the Golden Calf story by cutting out the tale of the Nehushtan (which would cast the idea of a cult object in a positive light) and that of the heresy of Peor (which would dilute the Golden Calf story by presenting another wickedness, one in which Aaron is not the villain).

However, like the priestly source, the Deuteronomist avoids stories that contrast even mildly with its laws; for example, the tale of food being found in the desert doesn’t involve sacrifice, and is cut. The tale of the non-Israelite prophet Balaam and the talking donkey is also cut, though this is most likely because it would appear out of place and disconnected from the main story.

“P” stands for “Priestly”. This represents the sections of the Torah that have the influence of the priestly-Levite class. Sprinkling their influence on texts found in pre-exilic Hebrew/Israelite/Judaite society.

This source is thought to have written the majority of the book of Leviticus, as well as stories that parallel those in J (the Jahwist text) and in E (the Elohist text), suggesting it was composed after J and E had been integrated into a JED proto-Torah.

P emphasizes the position of the priesthood and particularly of Aaron, and always presents Aaron as being present when Moses does something on God’s behalf. God works miracles through Aaron’s staff, rather than Moses’. P also denigrates Moses’ ability to continue to perform as leader by stating that, on descent from having become close to God at the mountain where he received the commandments, he was changed in such a way that no-one could bear to look at him. From the 1st century until the Renaissance, a misreading of a Hebrew word was responsible for the idea that the change included a pair of horns (see Moses for details). Michelangelo’s Moses is one example of this image.

Further denigration of the heroes of the non-Aaronid priesthood occurs in P’s treatment of Nadab and Abihu, who in J are described as being taken, with Moses, to meet God in person. In P, contrastingly, Nadab and Abihu are condemned for offering strange fire, and destroyed by God.

P is notable for its repetition of lists, long, unexciting, interruptions to the narrative, cold unemotional descriptions, and the lack of a high literary standard. While P uses Elohim and El Shaddai as names of God, unlike the Elohist, P treats God as transcendental, and distant, acting only through priests, and communicating only via the priesthood. In P, while God is just, God is also unmerciful, and applies brutal, and abrupt, punishment when laws are broken, such as killing 12,000 people with an instant plague, merely because they complained. P is regarded by the majority of scholars as particularly inelegant, and most think themselves able to recognize a text from P on sight due to this.

These are the four strands of thought running throughout the Torah. All of this was haphazardly edited and compiled upon the return from the exile by Judean/Persian “elites”, in which Ezra was more than likely a member (and possibly Jeremiah).

The expectation that the Judahite theology was fully formed prior to Babylon, and did not alter significantly through the experience of alienation and exile, is the one that stretches credulity.

In any other social science, such a transformative experience would be immediately tapped for clues as to how it changed the philosophy and outlook of the peoples who underwent such a struggle, whether it’s South Africans under Apartheid, or Jews after the Holocaust, or Cambodians coming to terms with a genocide, or Japanese coming to terms with their loss in the Second World War. But the exceptionalism required of a theory of a fully-constructed pre-Exilic J,D,P is really the one that beggars belief. Aside from the logistical hurdle of carting hundreds of sacred xenophobic nationalist texts into exile and then a second exile and back again…

“alright you, you’re off to exile.”

“Hang on a second — let me grab a few dozen scrolls.”

(Slash, stab.)

“And you, do you want to bring any scrolls, hmm?… Good. Off to exile.”

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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in deuteronomist, documentary hypothesis, elohist, jahwist, priestly


Nazarene or Nazirite?

So I’ve compiled all of the places where ΝΑΖΑΡΗΝΟΣ (Nazarene) is at in the NT and where ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΝ (Nazorene) is at to see if there’s any textual relationship between them. Judges 13:5 LXX has the word ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙOΝ (or ναζιραιος) which is a Nazirite (a naziraios). It’s only one letter off from the New Testament’s “Nazoraios” (ναζωραιος), substituting an iota (LXX) for an omega (NT), and sounds extremely similar. There’s no reason to think that they aren’t intended to be the same word, as there are no instances of “nazirite” (naziraios) in the NT and no instances of “nazoraios” in the LXX. In my opinion, all of these instances in the New Testament of “Nazoraion” should be translated as “Nazirite”, since that’s where the word comes from.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll point out that του::tou in Greek means “of” or “belonging to” while τον::ton and ο means “the”. Thus ιησους ο ναζωραιος should read as “Jesus the Nazirite” and not “Jesus of Nazareth“; ιησους ο ναζαρηνος should read “Jesus the Nazarene” not “Jesus of Nazareth“.

2:23 ναζωραιος
(and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene“)

26:71 ιησου του ναζωραιου
(Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth. “)

Luke 18:37 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”)

18:5 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.)

18:7 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”)

19:19 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read:|sc JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS)

Acts of the Apostles
2:22 ιησουν τον ναζωραιον
(“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.)

3:6 ιησου χριστου του ναζωραιου
(Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”)

4:10 ιησου χριστου του ναζωραιου
(then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.)

6:14 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”)

22:8 ιησους ο ναζωραιος
(‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.)

24:5 των ναζωραιων
(We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect)

26:9 ιησου του ναζωραιου
(I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.)


1:9 ιησους απο ναζαρετ της γαλιλαιας
(At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan)

1:24 ιησου ναζαρηνε
(What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God)

10:47 ιησους ο ναζαρηνος
(When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”)

14:67 μετα του ναζαρηνου ησθα του ιησου
(When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.)

16:6 ιησουν ζητειτε τον ναζαρηνον
(“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him”)

2:23 ναζαρετ
(and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”)

4:13 την ναζαρα
(Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali)

21:11 ιησους ο απο ναζαρεθ της γαλιλαιας
(The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”)

1:26 πολιν της γαλιλαιας η ονομα ναζαρεθ
(In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee)

2:4 απο της γαλιλαιας εκ πολεως ναζαρεθ
(So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David)

2:39 εις την γαλιλαιαν εις πολιν εαυτων ναζαρεθ
(When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth)

2:51 εις ναζαρεθ
(Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart)

4:16 εις ναζαρα
(He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read)

24:19 ιησου του ναζαρηνου
(“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.)

1:45-46 ιησουν υιον του ιωσηφ τον απο ναζαρετ, ναζαρετ!
(45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph

46 Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see” said Philip)

Acts of the Apostles
10:38 ιησουν τον απο ναζαρεθ
(how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him)

Just on first glance, it looks like earlier writings tend to use “Nazarene” while later writings tend to use “Nazorean”. John and Acts of the Apostles only use Nazarene once, whereas AoA has the most uses of Nazorean.

Most of these I would read as “Jesus of the Nazirites”, since nazoraios is an obvious misreading of the naziraios of Judges 13:5. But grammatically, it (nazoraios) should be plural (e.g. ναζωραιοι::nazoraioi), like the plural “nazirites” (ναζιραιοι::naziraioi) in Lamentations 4:7. But it’s not. Though there are a few instances in the Greek of “Jesus the Nazirite” (ιησους ο ναζωραιος/ιησουν τον ναζωραιον::Jesus the Nazirite).

Matt 21:11 and Mark 1:9 have almost identical wording, while Mark has absolutely no instances of “Nazirite” (ναζωραιος)! That is strange. That’s another line of evidence that “Nazarene” was first which for some reason evolved into Nazirite (nazoraios).

My hypothesis which I think explains the most, is that Mark was written first and gave Jesus the title “Nazarene” for some reason. Later gospel writers (and the writer of Acts) thought that the word should be nazoraios/Nazirite since they were trying to proof-text Jesus’ messiah-hood via the LXX. No “Nazarene” appears in the LXX, but the similar sounding “naziraios” does, which was ported to the NT as “nazoraios”. The only thing that is odd about that is the naziraios of the LXX doesn’t have a Nu (ν::n) to account for “Nazarene” (ναζαρηνος::nazarenos), but they probably didn’t care.

They also thought that Mark was supposed to be history instead of allegory/theology, and latched on to the town “Nazareth” (first appearing in Matt/Luke, from the Hebrew town Natsrat, sounding similar) to account for why Mark called Jesus a Nazarene. Seeing how Matt 21:11 and Mark 1:9 have similar language, and there’s a strong textual relationship between the two, Matt 21:11 probably came first and was inserted later into Mark 1:9. The parallel of Mark 1:9 in Matthew (3:13) where Jesus is going to get baptized by John simply has της γαλιλαιας; no ναζαρετ/θ, which supports a later interpolation into (or clarification of) Mark. Matt is the first person to make any sort of prophecy about Jesus having to be called a “Nazarene”, but this prophecy was lifted from Judges 13:5. Judges has naziraios whereas Matt’s prophecy has nazoraios.

The further writings get from Mark, the more they use what they feel is the more appropriate word: nazoraios (Nazirite). Acts of the Apostles, written in the mid/late 2nd century, has the most uses of the word “Nazoraios” and the least uses of the word “Nazarene/Nazareth” (only once).

What now needs to be answered is why Mark gave Jesus the title “Nazarene”, since he never uses the town/word “Nazareth” and doesn’t look like it derives from the Hebrew Natsrat. Another question is why these three or four authors would waffle between Nazarene, Nazirite, and Nazareth. My hunch is that there has to be some sort of literary relationship between all of the instances of “nazarene” (all one source) and a different relationship between all of the instances of “nazirite” (all one source). These two sources thus end up the foundation for the waffling between Nazarene and Nazirite in Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts of the Apostles. This also means that it has to be a source that Mark wasn’t aware of… some sort of Nazirite “Q”. Either that, or all of these instances of “Nazoraios” are due to the authors piggybacking off of Matthew’s spurious prophecy at 2:23 citing Judges 13:5.

One possibility is that Jesus wasn’t a Nazarene, but a Nasarene. This makes sense of the Hebrew “NT[s]RYM” or Notsrim. The t[s]ade in spoken Hebrew is usually transliterated as an “s” in Greek, like how we get the New Testament’s ΣΑΔΔΟΥΚΑΙΩΝ::Saddoukaion (Sadducees) from the Hebrew Tsadokim. The wikipedia article on Notsrim/Nasarenes doesn’t look very well sourced, but it says that the Nasarenes were around since the time of Jeremiah and were popular during the late Hasmonean era and were anti-Jewish, Northern Kingdom sympathizers. Probably as a reaction to John Hyrcanus destroying the Samaritan temple around 110 BCE. This provides a very tenuous link between nascent Christianity and Samaritanism. Paul was possibly split like the good Superman and bad Superman via the red kryptonite of Catholicizing into Paul the Apostle and Simon the Magician. This is also another weak link… with Simon said to be a Samaritan. Of course, the messiah being a “son of Joseph” is also Samaritan… and possibly Nasarene. All instances in Mark of “Nazarene” thus might actually have originally been “Nasarene”, and were changed via the reading of Matt 2:23/Judges 13:5. There are also no appearances of Samaritans in Mark, unlike the other gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

Another thing is that the Nazirite description in Numbers 6 LXX never once has the word “Nazirite” in Greek. The word used in Numbers 6 LXX is αγνεια::[h]agneia – purified/purification. It probably has something to do with the etymology of the word “Nazirite” which is derived from the Hebrew NZYR which means “consecrated”: to declare, or otherwise make something holy. Which is basically purification (αγνεια). This might mean that the Jewish-Greek translator of Numbers 6 LXX was a different one than the Jewish-Greek translator of Judges 13 LXX. One trying to be true to the idea of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6) and the other trying to write out what it was phonetically from Hebrew to Greek (Judges 13).

I wonder what our New Testaments would look like if both authors had stuck with αγνεια…

Tertullian in “Against Marcion” writes:

The Christ of the Creator had to be called a Nazarene according to prophecy; whence the Jews also designate us, on that very account, Nazerenes after Him. For we are they of whom it is written, “Her Nazarites were whiter than snow”

Tertullian is citing Lamentations 4:7, as I wrote above.

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Posted by on November 19, 2009 in nazarene, nazirite


Nazareth and Arimathea

Did Nazareth exist in 1 CE? What about Arimathia?

The earliest Jewish reference to a Nazareth is from “an inscription on a marble fragment for a synagogue found in Caesarea Maritima in 1962. This fragment gives the town’s name in Hebrew as nun·tsade·resh·tav (which would be נָצְרַת – NT[s]RT or Natsrat). The inscription dates as early as c. 300 CE and chronicles the assignment of priests that took place at some time after the Bar Kokhba revolt, 132-135 CE.” This means that a town was called Natsrat sometime during the 130s – 140s CE. NT[s]R in Hebrew meaning “offshoot” or “root”.

In the first gospel written – Mark – he only once writes the word “Nazareth” (ναζαρετ::nazaret) which is a bit odd. Every other time Mark refers to Jesus being from either Capernaeum or Galilee, and calls Jesus a Nazarene (ναζαρηνος::nazarenos). “Nazarene” in Hebrew being NT[s]RY (Notsri). Though writing this name phonetically in Greek would end up as either ΝΩΣΡΗ (nosree) or ΝΑΣΡΗ (nasree), which should have ended up in Greek as Nasarene or Nosarene. How the tsade of Hebrew ended up as a “z” sound (zeta) instead of an “s” sound (sigma) in Greek is unknown, and is evidence against the Greek Nazarene deriving from the Hebrew Natsrat. Some argue that this one instance of “Nazareth” in Mark (1:9) might be an interpolation by someone reading later gospels. The Greek of the canonical gospels and Acts uses “Nazarene” six times, while “Nazorean” is used 13 times; with “Nazorean” never occuring in Mark.

According to the gospel of Philip, Jesus was a “Nazarene” because he was “from Nazara”; the word nazara meaning “truth”. This obviously has Gnostic undertones, but it’s easy to see how Nazarene can come from Nazara. Jesus the Nazarene might mean Jesus the Truth (John 14:6). Though “truth” in Greek (and in that passage of John) is αληθης::alethes.

Gospel of Philip

The apostles who were before us had these names for him: “Jesus, the Nazorean, Messiah”, that is, “Jesus, the Nazorean, the Christ”. The last name is “Christ”, the first is “Jesus”, that in the middle is “the Nazarene”. “Messiah” has two meanings, both “the Christ” and “the measured”. “Jesus” in Hebrew is “the redemption”. “Nazara” is “the Truth”. “The Nazarene” then, is “the Truth”.

This might be some sort of stretched exegesis of John 14:6 where Jesus says he’s the way (measure), truth (nazarene), and life (redemption).

There’s also the idea that “Nazarene” was a misreading of the LXX Nazirite vow (Judges 13:5,7; 16:17).

Matthew 2:23

and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Where did Matthew get this prophecy from? Possibly from Judges.

Judges 13:5
because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.

But he said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.’

That sure could be read like a messainic prophecy if taken out of context. What does it look like in the LXX:

Judges 13:5
οτι ιδου συ εν γαστρι εξεις και τεξη υιον και ουκ αναβησεται σιδηρος επι την κεφαλην αυτου οτι ηγιασμενον ναζιραιον εσται τω θεω το παιδαριον εκ της γαστρος και αυτος αρξεται σωζειν τον ισραηλ εκ χειρος αλλοφυλων

και ειπεν μοι ιδου συ εν γαστρι εξεις και τεξη υιον και νυν μη πιης οινον και σικερα και μη φαγης πασαν ακαθαρσιαν οτι ναζιραιον θεου εσται το παιδαριον απο της γαστρος εως ημερας θανατου αυτου

The bolded word is “Nazarite”. ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ (naziraios) sounds an awful lot like ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ (nazoraios), and Matthew already had a penchant for taking things out of context like Isaiah 7:14. So he might have just been quoting Judges from memory. Matthew’s word “Nazoraios” is the more popular wording in the New Testament as I wrote above.

But what about Nazareth? It might be that the Nazarene of Mark was retrofitted to the city Natsrat through the lense of Matthew’s prophecy. Thus the Nazaret of Mark 1:9. And with the peculiarities of Hebrew, the ending tav can be pronounced either as our “t” sound or “th” sound. Hence “Shabbat” and “Sabbath” being the same word (shin-bet-tav).

According to the archaeological data, the earliest structures in what’s now Nazareth were tombs. And according to the Mishna, towns could not be situated near tombs. So if there were tombs, then there was no town. My thinking is that Nazareth, in the 1st century, was a cemetary. A city of the dead (a necropolis). After the war in 70 CE, things got thrown into disarray. Cities (and tombs) were destroyed. At this point, the town was populated over the barely extant tombs… possibly by Greeks or Romans, or otherwise non-Jews.

So Jesus being “from Nazareth” or Natsrat might be a post-70 CE anachronism.

Joe Wallack at FRDB points out an interesting bit of literary irony here:

If the Nazareth that “Mark” was referring to was a cemetery than we have a nice Ironic balance with the beginning and ending of “Mark”:

Mark 1

9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan.

At the beginning Jesus comes from the dead (the tombs @ Nazareth). Nothing else is known about him.


Mark 16

6 And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him!

7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

8 And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.

At the ending Jesus comes from the dead (the tomb). Nothing else is known about him except that he is going back to where he came from.

My thought that “Mark” intended Nazareth to refer to tombs is speculative but as we can be certain that “Mark” is primarily fiction and that he employs the literary technique of Ironic balancing many times, it is good speculation. I would even go so far as to say that when looking for possible explanations in this situation for “Mark”, a figurative one, such as I offer here, is to be preferred to a possible historical one for the reasons I give here.

Julian, Emperor of Rome in the early/mid 4th century, calls Christians “Galilaeans” and not “Nazarenes”, unlike the Jews.

As for Arimathea:

The LXX of Jos 20:8 has “Ramot[h]” in English/Hebrew, but the LXX has ΑΡΗΜΩΘ (arimoth). 1 Sam 1:19 talks of Ramah (“height”, Ramot[h] is a plural of this), while the LXX has ΑΡΜΑΘΑΙΜ (armathaim). The genitive form found in the gospels (Matt 27:57) is ΑΡΙΜΑΘΑΙΑΣ (arimathaias).

Arimathea is a Hellenization of the city name Ramoth: heights.

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Posted by on November 17, 2009 in arimathea, natsrat, Nazarenes, nazareth, notsri


Why The Name "Jesus"?

Jiri –

Guys, there is no doubt in my mind, that the name Jesus was the personification of gnosis, one acquired through contemplation and interpretation of the “cosmic” peaks of ecstatic transports. The issue is here is though, how did the earliest group agree on that name if, as it appears, they argued just about everything else ?

DG –


I wish I knew the answer to that question. It has been pointed out that the name Jesus would have appeared numerous times in the LXX and that this may have provided the impetus for the name, itself.

In actuality, I would consider this simple issue to be one of the better reasons to consider a case for an historical founder, by that name.


Jesus is probably the most important name in the LXX besides Moses. Jesus is a prophet like Moses or maybe some saw him as more important than Moses since “[YHWH’s] name is in him” (Exodus 23:21), and Jesus was also the first high priest when the 2nd temple was dedicated upon the Jews’ return from exile.

Odd that “Jesus” or “Joshua” only starts becoming a popular name after the exile. Where are all of the famous prophets/Judeans/Israelites named “Jesus” prior to the exile? Is it because the Jesus name (or Jehoshua) itself was an invention of the Judaean/Persian elites who crafted the story once back from the exile?


Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice;(Y) do not rebel against him,(Z) for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.
22″But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then(AA) I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

23(AB) “When my angel goes before you and brings you(AC) to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24you shall(AD) not bow down to their gods nor serve them,(AE) nor do as they do, but(AF) you shall utterly overthrow them and break their(AG) pillars in pieces.

Umm, what has this to do with Jesus?


Who is the person that leads the Jews into their promised land and kicks the ass of all of the native peoples there?


Joshua… aka Jesus… :notworthy:


Of course. It only makes sense in Hebrew that “[YHWH’s] name is in him” when you realize that Joshua (or Jehoshua) has YHWH’s (Jehovah’s) name in his name.

Hebrew illiterate, Greek speaking people would have thought that the name “Jesus” was just special without knowing why.

“Why does god say that his name is in Jesus?”
“Who knows… it’s a mystery”
“It must be a really special name… maybe the most important name ever!”

Thus if anyone is going to be a savior, their name had better be Jesus.


[The] well known prototypical Hebrew/Jewish ‘Joshua’ hero/saviour legendary figure [was] well in place for hundreds of years before being co-opted by the Christian mythos.


True, […] that is exaclty where I think Paul got the idea in the first place.

Josephus lists about 20 or 30 characters named “Jesus” in his works “Antiquities of the Jews”, “War of the Jews”, and his autobiography.

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Posted by on November 16, 2009 in jehovah, jesus, joshua


Zoroastrianism – the World’s Oldest Monotheism

The Persians who freed the Jews from exile were Zoroastrians. The Persians instilled their own priestly elites to re-establish the kingdom of Judah. These Persian elites who settled in the renewed “Judah” called themselves “Judaites” or “Jews”, and crafted a religion mixed with the old Yahwist/Elohist religion of the “Israelites”/Hebrews with Zoroastrian monotheism and thus the most recognizable iteration of Judaism was born.

Angels, heaven and hell, demons, the eternal battle between agents of good and agents of evil is the Zoroastrian influence on the Judaite/Israelite religion. The earliest Israelite texts shows a polytheistic religion that is very monistic – god creates both good and evil, and is not a god of benevolence in some eternal struggle against the forces of evil.

Zarathustra (Greek Zoroaster): legendary religious teacher from Bactria, founder of Zoroastrianism.
Hardly anything is known about Zarathustra’s life. For example, it is uncertain when he lived. The ancient Greeks speculated that he lived six thousand years before the philosopher Plato and several scholars have argued for a date at the beginning of the sixth century BCE. Other scholars accept that Zarathustra is the author of the Gâthâ’s (a part of the holy book of the Zoroastrians, the Avesta), which they date, on linguistic grounds, in the fourteenth or thirteenth century BCE.

It is also unclear where Zarathustra was born and where he spent the first half of his life. Every tribe that converted to Zoroastrianism made up legends about the prophet’s life, and nearly all of them claimed that the great teacher was “one of them”. On linguistic grounds, we may argue that author of the Gâthâ’s belonged to a tribe that lived in the eastern part of Iran, in Afghanistan or Turkmenistan. This fits neatly with a tradition that connects Zarathustra with the ancient country named Bactria and a cypress at Kâshmar (below), but it hardly proves Zarathustra’s Bactrian origins.

The Gâthâ’s are not a great help either. They contain some personal information, but are hardly the stuff that biographies are made of. The Denkard, a late Avestic text, contains a summary of an older biography. It contains many legends and the reliability seems not very great. The following reconstruction of Zarathustra’s life is, therefore, not to be taken as the very truth.

Zarathustra was born in Bactria (or Aria) as the son of a not very powerful nobleman named Purushaspa and a woman named Dughdhova. Zarathustra was the third of five brothers. He became a priest and seems to have showed a remarkable care for humans and cattle. The family is often called Spitama, which is a honorary title meaning ‘most beneficient’, but was later taken for a family name.

Zarathustra’s life changed when the god Ahuramazda granted him a vision. A spirit named Good Thought appeared and ordered Zarathustra to oppose the bloody sacrifices of the traditional Iranian cults and to give aid to the poor. In one of his own compositions, Zarathustra says:

Thee I conceived as holy, O Ahuramazda, when thy Good Thought appeared to me and asked me: ‘Who art thou? And whose is thine allegiance?’ […]
Then I answered: ‘Zarathustra am I; to the false believers a forthright enemy, but to the righteous a mighty help and joy. […]
Thee I conceived as holy, O Ahuramazda, when thy Good Thought appeared to me. […] A difficult thing it seemed to me, to spread thy faith among men, to do that which Thou didst say was best.
[Yasna 43.4]

Zarathustra started to preach that there was a supreme god, the “wise lord” Ahuramazda, who had created the world, mankind and all good things in it through his holy spirit, Spenta Mainyu. The rest of the universe was created by six other spirits, the Amesha Spentas (‘holy immortals’). However, the order of this sevenfold creation was threatened by The Lie; good and evil spirits were fighting and mankind had to support the good spirits in order to speed up the inevitable victory of the good.

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Posted by on November 16, 2009 in ahura mazda, judah, judaism, zoroastrianism


The Suffering Servant

Christians claim that Isaiah 53 is a messainic prophecy about Jesus, but this is taking Isaiah out of context.

The original author of what’s called “Deutero Isaiah” (Isa. 40 – 66, though some argue for a “Trito Isaiah” which is chapters 55 – 66) did not write “chapters”. Indeed, the chapters that appear in our Book of Isaiah are a later heuristic for making them easier to read. So it stands to reason that Isaiah 53 is more like a paragraph instead of a chapter. Taking Isaiah 53 as one chapter is simply taking the passage out of its context.

Here is the context:

Isaiah 41:8, “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham my friend”
Isaiah 44:1 “But hear, now, O Jacob My servant, Israel whom I have chosen!”
Isaiah 44:21 “Remember these things, O Jacob for you, O Israel, are My servant”
Isaiah 49:3 “And he said to me, “You are My servant, Israel in whom I glory.””
Isaiah 52:13 “Indeed, my servant shall prosper, be exalted and raised to great heights.”

It’s obvious, reading 40 – 55 in context that the servant here is the house of Jacob: Israel. Not Jesus. For all intents, Isaiah 53 is written from the point of view of the nations, not the Jews. Isaiah 53 is what the nations will be saying to the Jews – the suffering servant.

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Posted by on November 15, 2009 in Isaiah 53


Dating Various Writings

I get somewhat annoyed when, in discussions, people assign hard and fixed dates to certain – in this case Christian – works. Christian writings are especially problematic for dating because you need to understand what else was going on in the world that would have been known to the author.

So for example, if we find a document by an unknown person that says he lived in “New Amsterdam” then it’s reasonable to conclude that this person lived sometime after New York City was bought from the Native Americans but before New Amsterdam was renamed New York. Which is roughly the time period between 1625 and 1665… a span of 40 years.

The same methodology is used (and should be used) by New Testament scholars. Because of the destruction of the 2nd Temple that Jesus “predicts” in the gospel of Mark, this sets the no-earlier-than date of 70 CE – when the Temple actually was destroyed. To me, though, the same pericope sets a no-later-than date of 135 CE since it can also describe a contemporary account of the Bar-Kochba revolt. That’s a span of almost 70 years, which is unacceptable to most people because of our addiction to certainty. But I’m comfortable with that number.

Though other problems arise with this span though. In the Ignatian letters, he writes about some things that are peculiar to Matthew, such as the visiting astrologers and the virgin birth. I bring up Ignatius and Matthew because Matthew – according to the Two-Source Hypothesis solution to the Synoptic Problem – is using Mark as a source. But this brings up more problems. When was Ignatius writing? Was he really reading from Matthew or just recalling oral tradition/rumors? Remember, saviors with virgin births were a common meme in the first century. What if Matthew got the virgin birth theme from reading Ignatius and not the other way around? Do we have the same sort of time span for Ignatius’ letters? Are the Ignatian letters even authentic? All of those questions cannot be answered with any certainty.

And then there’s Paul’s body of writings. Traditionally, Paul was writing sometime in the 40s or 50s. But this is still just tradition based on Acts of the Apostles (that post went into my dating scheme of that work); the problem is that the earliest witness to a body of Paul’s writings was Marcion. Another problem is that we don’t even know if the seven authentic letters have maintained integrity (i.e. no interpolations) in the 100 year timespan between 40 CE and 140 CE. And then, Marcion’s Pauline letters aren’t even the ones found in our current New Testament so either Marcion subtracted from Paul, or the Catholics added to Paul – that pushes the earliest witness to our current Pauline letters to c. 170 CE with Irenaeus. That’s about a 130 year window that we don’t know who was writing/adding/subtracting to who knows what and where.

While Polycarp and Clement (of Rome, not Alexandria) mention Paul in passing, we still have to have no-earlier-than and no-later-than dates (there are fancy Latin terms for these, but I don’t feel like writing them lol) for Polycarp and Clement. The only thing that we have about those two is again Christian tradition. Nothing tangible.

The one tangible thing that dates Paul’s letters (at least, 2 Corinthians) is a reference to an “Aretas” who had a governor working for him in Damascus. But this is no smoking gun – it actually brings up more questions than it answers.

In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me

-2 Cor 11:32

Taking the (authentic) Pauline letters in isolation, this is the only passage that can be used to date when Paul lived. Paul says that there was a governor in Damascus who answered to King Aretas. The only time in history that an Aretas had control of Damascus was before 63 BCE when the Romans kicked him out. But that was Aretas III, not Aretas IV. The latter is the one who lived in the mid 1st century CE.

So there’s something fishy going on here.

So Paul lived a little over a century before he’s placed in traditional history, or this passage is an interpolation of some sort. I don’t like false dichotomies, but these are the two best options IMO. There are others (mistaken, overblown persecution complex, etc.), but they don’t seem too likely. Considering that the authentic Pauline letters already probably have interpolations in them, and we have “canonical” Pauline letters that are pseudepigrapha, I think this might be another case of interpolation. But what was the purpose of the interpolation?

The third option, that Aretas IV actually had control over Damascus c. 40 CE (as per Wikipedia) doesn’t seem likely. Damascus was under Roman control in 40 CE, so there’s no way that they’d let a foreign king control one of their provinces.

Damascus sat at the convergence of the Silk Road from China and the trade routes from Arabia and Palmyra. That Silk Road also served as a primary invasion route from Central Asia to the West and it was one of the main reasons why 4 Roman legions, 1/4 of the Roman Army under Augustus, was sitting in Syria in the first place.

The suggestion that a race as pragmatic as the Romans would willingly give such an important commercial and strategic position to a man who had recently been chased back to Nabatea by one of their generals is, simply, silly.

Here’s the passage in its “original” Greek:

εν δαμασκω ο εθναρχης αρετα του βασιλεως εφρουρει την πολιν δαμασκηνων πιασαι με

The word used for govenor here is εθναρχης or ethnarch. This is the same sort of title that the Herods had (they were technically tetrarchs not kings, a mistake in Mark [6:14] that Matthew [14:1] corrects in the same pericope). αρετα του βασιλεως::areta tou basileos is in genitive form, so the ethnarch mentioned prior to it belongs to him.

This presents a whole bunch of problems for dating Paul’s evangelism – though in the Pastorals, Paul mentions Pilate which is a no-earlier-than date of c. 33 CE (when Pilate was Prefect). The no-later-than date for the Pastorals is Irenaeus c. 170 CE. Scholars refuse to try to find the “authentic” Paul though they try to find the “authentic” Jesus. Without Paul, the birth of Modern Christianity becomes impossible to securely date to the first century. I make the distinction “modern” because there could have still been some sort of proto-Ebionite/Jesus movement that had nothing to do with god-men who gave people with enough faith some sort of eternal life.

Of course in the Jewish work called the Toledot Yeshu, the entire Jesus scenario plays out during the late Hasmonean era (1st century BCE), when Aretas III was in control of Damascus. Another fishy coincidence.

To support a “Paul” writing this c. 40 CE, DC Hindly has an interesting thesis:

The interest of the primary author (“Paul”) in women dishonoring her “head” and being shorn may have something to do with the Nazirite vow discharged by Queen Helena of Adiabene sometime in the late 40’s to mid 50’s CE. I can’t shake the feeling that the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thess. 2:3-7 is the Emperor Gaius, and the restraining entity is the Governor of Syria, Petronius, dating the events of that letter to around 40 CE. If these are really indicators of date, then the order of Paul’s activities in Acts must certainly be wrong.

Basically, the primary material is authentically written c. 40 CE, but the secondary material (all of the Jesus/Christ language) is all interpolation; post 70 CE. Here is one example I noted in an earlier blog post.

In the gospel of John, the author has Christians being kicked out of the synagoges while Jesus was still alive. This doesn’t actually happen until around 95 CE with the council of Jamnia. This sets the no-earlier-than date for John to being that same date. John also never mentions the Sadducees, so this might mean they were a distant memory by the time John was writing (there are a couple of other options that I don’t feel like getting into at the moment). The beliefs of a proto-Ebionite named Cerinthus was said to be who this gospel was refuting. Cerinthus lived c. 100 CE so this moves the no-earlier-than date to when Cerinthus was alive. Which could still have been during the council of Jamnia. The no-later-than date is the lifetime of Valentinus, a gnostic and contemporary of Marcion who is said to have used John the most when he wrote his Homilies.

But wait – we still have another problem. Our current John is very anti-docetic so Valentinus couldn’t have been using our current John. So this pushes the “canonical” John’s no-later-than date to possibly to Tatian, who compiled four gospels into one harmony called the Diatessaron. This is a span of about 60 years.

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Posted by on November 12, 2009 in aretas III, aretas IV, hasmoneans, paul, terminus a quo, terminus ad quem

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