Evidence that Christianity arose late in the first century and probably in AD70 as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple is presented below. For full referencing and images related to this evidence consult the book On Christian Origins by Paul George, which is available here
Index of Items
56 The Way
Index of Items
56 The Way
Evidence from church fathers
1 Jesus living into his fifties
Jesus living into his fifties or later is an odd notion to those used to the orthodox image of Jesus, but understandable as an explanation in order to have him born under Augustus (according to some gospels) while not actually launching the new religion until much later. From Irenaeus, orthodox bishop of Lyon (late second century) we have,
…but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he [John or Jesus] remained among them up to the times of Trajan [98-117]. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement.
It is unclear which gospel Irenaeus is referring to. According to the chronology of Luke, Jesus was born in 6 CE when Quirinius took over from Herod Archelaus as governor of Judea. (Luke 2:2) And the gospel writer has him dying under Pontius Pilate who passed off the scene in 36 CE. This makes Jesus no older than 31 when his life ended.
The reason Irenaeus portrays Jesus as an elderly sage can possibly be explained if we consider the image of Heracles in Gaul, where Irenaeus was bishop. Here, if Lucian is to be believed, the locals made him out to be as “old as old can be: the few hairs he has left (he is quite bald in front) are dead white, and his skin is wrinkled and tanned as black as any old salt’s.” In the painted pictures, this Heracles (or Ogmius as he was known to the locals) had a following of a vast crowd of men eager to hear him, “fastened by the ears with thin chains composed of gold and amber,” and literally hanging on his every word.
2 The list of Jerusalem bishops
By examining the list of Epiphanius, we can see that all early Jerusalem bishops had short careers (average 3 to 5 years) with the sole exception of the second bishop named Symeon, who oddly has a career of at least 30 years, and lived according to Eusebius, to the age of 120. This anomaly has been caused by the early church historians attempting to fit a limited list of names into a long and artificial time frame.
3 The unbelievable longevity of some early Christian leaders
John lives to a hundred plus (?)
John is recorded in Galatians 2:9 along with Cephas and James as being one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem. Tradition would place John as being active from about 30, the supposed year of Jesus’ death. Notwithstanding the fact that the average life expectancy in ancient Roman times was less than 30 years we have John still active in the reign of Trajan, that is after the year 98.
Eusebius records that John, after the death of Domitian in 96, was nimble enough to ride a horse and chase down a youth who was attempting to flee from him. The legendary longevity of John has echoes in the fourth gospel, where the writer of what appears to be an appendix, skilfully weaves the well-known “longevity” of John into the story (John 21:20-25). Also, it indicates that the gospel or at least the appendix was written after John’s death.
Symeon, second bishop of Jerusalem, lives to a hundred and twenty(!)
According to Hegesippus, Symeon was betrayed by some heretics when he was 120 years old. The number 120 seems to have been chosen for the lifespan of Symeon from the post-diluvian upper limit of age referenced in Genesis, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3)
4 Polycarp is instructed by the apostles
Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was martyred in the year 155 at the earliest. Assuming he was 80 when he died, he would have been 20 in the year 95. This dating places Polycarp and the apostles at the end of the first century.
Polycarp, too, was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also appointed Bishop of the Church in Smyrna by apostles in Asia, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried (with us on earth) a very long time.
5 The testimony of Quadratus
But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine—those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day.”
6 The Temple destroyed FIRST
. . . the temple shall be destroyed, and the abomination of desolation shall stand in the holy place [Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15]; and then the Gospel shall be preached to the Gentiles for a testimony against you, that your unbelief may be judged by their faith.
According to this witness (Clementine Recognitions, 64), the gospel was not preached to non-Jews till after the year 70. This runs counter to the accepted tradition that has Jesus commissioning the apostles about the year 30.
7 Jerusalem falls, then Christians appear first in the ‘Decapolis’
We can reasonably surmise that the first Christians were Jewish Christians who were later labelled heretics—their name, Ebionitessignifies “poverty.” There was no leader called “Ebion”. But the other information provided by the Christian heresiologist, Epiphanius is instructive. Epiphanius says,
Their origin [the Ebionites] came after the fall of Jerusalem. For since practically all who had come to faith in Christ had settled in Peraeathen, in Pella, a town in the ‘Decapolis’ the Gospel mentions, which is near Batanaea and Bashanitis—as they had moved there then and were living there, this provided an opportunity for Ebion.
However, the Acts and the gospels paint a different picture. They have Paul and the other apostles preaching and establishing churches all around the Mediterranean, converting swathes of Asia Minor well before Jerusalem was taken. But Epiphanius records that practically all who had come to faith in Christ had settled in Peraea, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70. And not only this—the Ebionites, that is the Jewish Christians, came after the Jewish War.
It is hardly coincidental that the region where Jesus allegedly preached and healed, the setting for the gospel stories, the Decapolis in Galilee, is the same region that the very first Christians called home.
8 Those “raised” by Jesus alive after 117
Concerning those who were raised from the dead by Christ, [he relates] that they lived until Hadrian.
According to the gospel of Mark, Jairus’ daughter who was raised from the dead by Jesus, was twelve years old. (5:42) Assuming Jesus performed the miracle in the year 30, she would have lived to be more than 99. Other adults such as Lazarus (John 11) and the young man from Nain (Luke 7) would have been well over a hundred when Hadrian became emperor in 117. While not accepting that anyone was actually raised from the dead, the passage speaks of people much more recently touched by Jesus, however that may be interpreted. It points to an origin or source for the stories much more recent than 30 CE.
9 Aphrahat: “from the time the new…the old was abolished”
Aphrahat, a Syriac-Christian monk (c. 280–c. 345) says,
For the uses of the law are abolished by the advent of our Life-giver, and He offered up Himself in the place of the sacrifices which are in the law, and He was led as a lamb to the slaughter in the place of the lambs of propitiation, and He was killed for us (as) a fattened bull, that there might be no necessity for us to offer the offspring of cattle. He came and He was lifted up upon the cross; oblations and sacrifices are not required from us; He gave His blood in place of all men, that the blood of animals might not be required of us; He entered the sanctuary which was not made by hands, and He became the priest and minister of the holy place. For from the time in which He came He abolished the observances which are of the law, and from the time that they bound Him the festivals were bound for them by chains; and because they wished to judge the innocent One He took the judges away from them; and because they rejected His kingdom He took away the kingdom from them, . . ., and the works which are in the law have grown old and become antiquated and fit for destruction, for from the time the new was given the old was abolished.
In another place Aphrahat says, “But Daniel testifies that, when Christ comes and is slain, Jerusalem shall be destroyed.” The sacrifices continued under the Mosaic Law right up to the year 70 therefore Jesus “came” in the year 70, the same year that Jerusalem was destroyed.
10 Clement of Rome, his letter and Paul
The letter to the Corinthians assigned to Clement of Rome is dated to about 97CE. This bishop may be the same Clement mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Philippians (4:3). Church historian Eusebius thinks so and equates the writer of the epistle with the bishop and co-worker of Paul. Clement explains that the writing of the letter was delayed due to some “sudden and successive calamitous events” in Rome. He is probably referring to persecution under Domitian. (see Item 13) Clement says Paul and Peter are from “our own generation.” Clement says Paul had recently been executed “under the prefects”. Eusebius says,
He [Clement] had seen and conversed with the blessed apostles, and their preaching was still sounding in his ears, and their tradition was still before his eyes. Nor was he alone in this, for many who had been taught by the apostles yet survived.
11 The evidence of Jerome
Paul, formerly called Saul, an apostle outside the number of the twelve apostles, was of the tribe of Benjamin and the town of Giscalis in Judea. When this was taken by the Romans he removed with his parents to Tarsus in Cilicia.
- Gischala is NOT in Judea. It is in Galilee. Palestine was annexed to the Roman Empire in 70 as an imperial province and given the name Judaea.
- Gischala was taken by the Romans under Titus in 67. It was the last town in Galilee to be taken by the Romans.
We can interpret this to mean that Paul was still a young man when he moved to Tarsus to escape the Romans. This is completely at odds with the Acts version of events. Note once again the connection with Galilee, as the provenance of Christianity. (See Item 7 above.)
11a More evidence from Jerome
Jerome says in Letter 46,
The veil of the temple has been rent [Matthew 27:51]; an army has encompassed Jerusalem, it has been stained by the blood of the Lord. Now, therefore, its guardian angels have forsaken it and the grace of Christ has been withdrawn. Josephus, himself a Jewish writer, asserts that at the Lord’s crucifixion there broke from the temple voices of heavenly powers, saying: Let us depart hence.
12 Heresies mentioned by Paul
Heresies mentioned by Paul were invented late first century or early second century according to the church historians.
Irenaeus (c 130 – c 200) says,
They [the heretics Basilides and Saturninus] declare also, that marriage and generation are from Satan. Many of those, too, who belong to his school, abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a reigned temperance of this kind.
Paul makes mention of the same heresies in his letter to Timothy.
They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:3)
The Cerinthians believed that Jesus was crucified and buried but not yet raised. Some believed that the dead will never rise. Paul refuted these doctrines which were extant in Corinth in his day. (1 Corinthians 15:12-34)
Now this man [Cerinthus] is one of the ones who caused the trouble in the apostles’ time, when James wrote the letter to Antioch and said, ‘We know that certain which went out from us have come unto you and troubled you with words, to whom we gave no such commandment.’ (Acts 15:24)
Tertullian admits that the heresies existed in the time of Paul.
Besides all this, I add a review of the doctrines themselves, which, existing as they did in the days of the apostles, were both exposed and denounced by the said apostles.
If these heresies existed in 40 to 50CE why are there no documents relevant to these heresies, either apologetic or polemic, from the mid first century? It is much more likely that the heresies arose at the same time as the orthodox version of Christianity, not 40 years later.
13 The first persecution of Christians
In Suetonius we have,
Domitian’s agents collected the tax on Jews [the Fiscus Judaicus] with a peculiar lack of mercy; and took proceedings not only against those who kept their Jewish origins a secret in order to avoid the tax, but against those who lived as Jews without professing Judaism.
From Philip of Side, we have,
Church historian Orosius (c. 375- c. 418) declares,
For fifteen years this ruler progressed through every degree of wickedness. Finally he [Domitian] dared to issue edicts for a general and most cruel persecution to uproot the Christian Church, which was now very firmly established throughout the world.
In Eusebius we read,
The reason Vespasian (or Titus) did not persecute Christians may have been because the adherents were not numerous enough at that time (between 69 and 81) to attract imperial attention or they may have felt some sympathy for the plight of Jews and those with Jewish leanings in general. However, it is likely that there was initially local opposition, from Jews and pagans (Acts 17:1-9). Where only Jews were involved these matters may have been dismissed by Roman authorities as “questions about words and names and your own law.” (Acts 18:15) The Romans would only have intervened if there were threats to public order. Various incidents are recorded in Acts which may be based on actual events.
By analogy the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 and local persecution of Mormons began almost immediately. The persecutors were “composed of various religious parties, but mostly Campbellites, Methodists and Baptists.” These events did not escape the notice of the media, and the general populace. In the same fashion, we can rightly surmise that if Christians had existed between 30 and 70 the reaction of orthodox Jews to their presence would have been noted by Josephus, and other Jewish historians.
Paul records persecution in the late 70’s which was probably local and not instituted by the emperor.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, perhaps written in 78)
In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. (1 Thessalonians 3:4, possibly written early 79)
Later in his career, Paul is on trial in Rome. (2 Timothy 4:16, Philippians 1:12-14, 4:22) Everything points to this occurring under Domitian. When Domitian was murdered in 96 all records of his deeds were destroyed by order of the Senate, and this may explain why we do not have more information about persecution of Christians at this time.
14 Daniel, Tertullian and the coming of the “Leader”
Concerning the Old Testament Book of Daniel, Schurer says,
The high estimation in which from the first this book was held by believing Israelites is best shown by the fact that it always continued to retain its place in the canon.
Daniel was quoted and referenced by both Jews and Christians in the first century as predicting the imminent end-time. For our purposes the relevant passage in the context of a somewhat obscure prophecy is,
After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. (9:26)
The early Christian author, Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) in arguing against the Jews for the coming of Christ as a past event says that the “leader” is destroyed at the same time as the city is destroyed. Everyone agreed that the city had been destroyed. He says,
Accordingly, the times must be inquired into of the predicted and future nativity of the Christ, and of His passion, and of the extermination of the city of Jerusalem, that is, its devastation. For Daniel says, that “both the holy city and the holy place are exterminated together with the coming Leader, and that the pinnacle is destroyed unto ruin.”
He also says in another place,
For the Scripture says thus, that “the city and the holy place are simultaneously exterminated together with the leader,” ― undoubtedly (that Leader) who was to proceed “from Bethlehem,” and from the tribe of “Judah.” Whence, again, it is manifest that “the city must simultaneously be exterminated” at the time when its “Leader” had to suffer in it, (as foretold) through the Scriptures of the prophets.
Although Tertullian in a contradictory fashion goes on to argue for the orthodox chronology of the birth of the Christ it can be seen that an observer in the first century would quite naturally link the destruction of the sanctuary (that is, the Temple) with the death of the anointed one (that is, the Christ). There would have been no reason from the point of view of Daniel’s prophecy to backdate the death of Jesus.
Evidence from astronomy
15 The sign of a star
… they [the Jews in Jerusalem] did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, … Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.
Tacitus says that in Rome,
At the close of the year  people talked much about prodigies, presaging impending evils. Never were lightning flashes more frequent, and a comet too appeared, for which Nero always made propitiation with noble blood. Human and other births with two heads were exposed to public view, or were discovered in those sacrifices in which it is usual to immolate victims in a pregnant condition. And in the district of Placentia, close to the road, a calf was born with its head attached to its leg. Then followed an explanation of the diviners, that another head was preparing for the world, which however would be neither mighty nor hidden, as its growth had been checked in the womb, and it had been born by the wayside.
An allusion to this portent is written into Matthew’s gospel as the heavenly sign, the star that the wise men from the east followed. (Matthew 2:2). That Jesus was neither “mighty nor hidden” is also related in the second chapter of the gospel according to Matthew.
How then, was he [Jesus] revealed to the ages? A star, brighter than all other stars, shone in the heaven, and its brightness was ineffable and its novelty brought forth astonishment. But the rest of the stars, together with the sun and the moon, formed a choir around the star; but it exceedingly outshone them all with its light. Now it was perplexing to know the origin of this novelty which was unlike anything else. Thereupon all magic was dissolved, every bond of malice disappeared, ignorance was destroyed, the ancient kingdom was ruined, when God appeared in the form of a human to give us newness of an eternal life. (Letter to the Ephesians 19)
It would have been obvious to first century Jews that Old Testament prophecy had been fulfilled in the year 66. The divine seer Balaam is reported to have said,
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)
16 The sign of the sword
Josephus says, “There was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city…”
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was instructed to warn Israel and Jerusalem. In chapter 21 we read,
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries; prophesy against the land of Israel and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: I am coming against you, and will draw my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. (1-3)
A sword, a sword is sharpened, it is also polished; it is sharpened for slaughter, honed to flash like lightning! (9-10)
Remove the turban, take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, abase that which is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin—I will make it! (Such has never occurred.) Until he comes whose right it is; to him I will give it. (26-27)
The coming of the one whose right it was to govern is associated with the appearance of the sword over the city.
Evidence from the New Testament
17 Paul wrote after the Jews were punished
The humiliation and defeat of the Jews is a past event in Paul’s writings. In Paul’s first letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he writes
…the Jews . . . killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)
The letter to the Romans was written after 70. Paul says, regarding
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? (11:1)
They were broken off because of their unbelief. (11:20)
There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek. (2:9)
Four years after the end of the Great War in 1918, Pope Pius XI issued his first encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio. In this work of about 11,500 words the Great War is mentioned 14 times. Nine years later the same term gets only one mention in his much longer Quadragesimo Anno. Both encyclicals deal with similar themes.
Using the writings of the Pope as a guide and noting the indirect references to the War in Paul, we can reasonably speculate that he was writing about 10 years after the event.
18 Paul wrote after the Temple was destroyed
Many New Testament scholars conclude that the letter to the Ephesians was written after 70CE, because it refers to the destruction of the dividing wall between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of Israel in the Jerusalem Temple. This letter was recognised by the early church as authored by Paul. Irenaeus c. 170 declares it is the work of Paul. Eusebius writing about 320 declared that all of Paul’s fourteen epistles were well known and undisputed.
According to Josephus a five-foot wall separated the Outer Court of the Gentiles from a set of stairs that led to the sanctuary, the platform on which the Temple stood. Gentiles were warned by Greek and Latin inscriptions fixed on pillars not to proceed beyond that point. The Romans had given permission to the Jews to execute any who transgressed the prohibition.
The warning tablet found in Jerusalem bears the following inscription in Koine Greek:
ΜΗΘΕΝΑ ΑΛΛΟΓΕΝΗ ΕΙΣΠΟΡΕΥΕΣΘΑΙ ΕΝΤΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΕΡΙ
ΤΟ ΙΕΡΟΝ ΤΡΥΦΑΚΤΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΠΕΡΙΒΟΛΟΥ ΟΣ Δ ΑΝ ΛΗΦΘΗ
ΕΑΥΤΩΙ ΑΙΤΙΟΣ ΕΣΤΑΙ ΔΙΑ ΤΟ ΕΞΑΚΟΛΟΥΘΕΙΝ ΘΑΝΑΤΟΝ
Translation: “No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”
In Ephesians we read,
Barth notes that, “the (aorist) tense ‘he has broken down’ reveals that Paul wants to speak of the factual, historical, completed destruction of the obstacle.”
The context of the passage is reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles and the constitution of a new temple. (v. 19-20) The author of Ephesians is clearly alluding to the wall which was broken down when the Romans destroyed the Temple at the conclusion of hostilities. Paul tells the believers that they now constitute a NEW temple, a new dwelling place for God. The passage in its context could only have been written after 70 CE.
19 Paul and the prominent Gospel character, John the Baptist
Paul never mentions a forerunner to Jesus; he never mentions John the Baptiser, although he must have heard of him. John the Baptiser seems to have had no theological significance for Paul. This is odd because John the Baptiser is a central character in the Gospel narratives, and the baptism of John is also mentioned in Acts. We can explain the lack of interest by Paul by noting that John the Baptiser died about 36 and the rumour of Jesus appearance, in line with our argument, began about 70. Hence there would have been no reason for Paul and the earliest Christians to connect John to Jesus.
However, we read in the gospels that the disciples of John fasted while the followers of Jesus did not, so it may be true that John’s teaching or a variation of it survived into the 90’s. Arguments against the status of John can be found in the gospels. See John 5:36. The ancient sect of the Mandaeans honoured John and rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Matthew, the writer of the first gospel, was responsible for connecting the two lives as the contrived fulfilment of some passages from the prophets—or perhaps Matthew was reporting what had become a common belief. Either way it served a theological purpose to have John meet Jesus so that the superiority of Jesus could be demonstrated. The existence of John in history also served as an anchor for stories about Jesus.
20 The witness of James as recorded in Acts
After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, ‘After this I [the Messiah] will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’” (15:13-18)
The rebuilding of the city of David (that is Jerusalem) can only occur after its destruction. It was destroyed in the year 70, hence the Gentiles were called after 70 CE.
21 The parable of the widow and the unjust judge
He [Jesus] said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:2-8)
- The city is Jerusalem
- The unjust judge is the procurator, Gessius Florus (64–66) who was renowned for being thoroughly unscrupulous, corrupt and impious.
- The widow is Berenice, widow of Alexander (44 CE) and widow of Herod of Chalcis (48 CE), who tried by constant efforts to relieve the plight of the Jews.
- The chosen ones are the Jews, suffering injustice and oppression from the Romans under Florus.
- But they received no political justice, no political help from God. The Son of Man, Jesus, did come, but as the unexpected suffering servant – hence he was unrecognized. When he came as the parable says, he found no faith on the earth.
22 Save us from the Romans
At Jesus’ supposed triumphal entry into Jerusalem the crowd celebrates. The gospel of Mark says,
Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10)
Hosanna means “Deliver [us] please!” or “Save [us] please!” It is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew hoshia-na, or the Aramaic hoshana. Ziffer notes that,
It is used to this day in the synagogue in the special collection of Psalms found in all Jewish prayer books under the title of “Hallel!” that consists of Psalms 113-118. These psalms are chanted on certain festival days.
Hosanna in the highest!
As it stands this phrase makes little sense. Why would the Jews in Jerusalem on earth be crying out for help “in the highest”?
Greek, “in the highest” is, en tois hupsistois. There could be, but there are no connecting words in the phrase such as “you who are”, which would make the sentence meaningful. This would translate as “Please help, you who are in the highest.”
The acclamation was probably made originally in Hebrew and translating back into that language, we get bameromiym. ba in Hebrew before another word means “in the”. For example, in Job 16:19, we read, “Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high (or in the heights) (Hebr. bameromiym).” meromiym is the plural of the noun marom which means “elevation, high place.”
But the phrase still lacks an object. A useful solution to this problem presents itseIf, if we omit the ba altogether. We then get a different expression all together, but one which makes much more sense. Hence, we can safely say that the original expression was not hoshia-na bameromiym, but hoshia-na meromiym. me in Hebrew means “from.” romiym means “Romans.”
Now the phrase becomes “Please save us from the Romans!”
23 The gate of Nain
Soon afterwards he [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. (7:11-12)
Josephus describes Nain as a village in lower Galilee, which appears to agree with archaeological surveys. Conder and others who visited the site in 1882-8 say that “there are numerous traces of ruins extending beyond the boundary of the modern hamlet to the north, showing the place to have been once larger . . . There is a small spring north of the village; a second, ‘Ain el Baz, exists on the west, and beside it are rock-cut tombs, much defaced, and a tree.”
Prior to the Jewish War it appears that the town had no wall as Josephus says that the infamous leader of the revolt, Simon bar Giora “built a wall at a certain village called Nain, and made use of that as a fortress for his own party’s security.” Luke says that Jesus and his party approached the gate of the town. Clearly there could only have been a gate if there had been a wall. Hence the story appears to be set in a time after June 68 when, with Nero dead and the Roman campaign temporarily halted due to the confused state of affairs in Rome, the rebel leader Simon bar Giora set up a wall around the town and used it as a fortress.
The Gospel of Barnabas connects the Roman occupation with this miracle. Barnabas says, “At that time the army of the Romans was in Judea, our country being subject to them for the sins of our forefathers.” (48.1)
24 Jesus reports the murder of Zechariah which occurred in 69
Jesus refers to this incident.
Therefore I [Jesus] send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:34-36)
25 Jesus and familial division
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51–53)
Jesus says from now on… indicating that this generational division would come into effect immediately. However, when we search the gospels and Acts we do not find this. We do find division but it is never along the lines described in the prophecy. (Luke 12:13, John 10:19, Acts 14:4, Acts 23:7)
However, Josephus records demographic strife and division within families in Jerusalem about the year 68, as described by Jesus.
There was also a bitter contest between those that were fond of war, and those that were desirous for peace. At the first this quarrelsome temper caught hold of private families, who could not agree among themselves; after which those people that were the dearest to one another brake through all restraints with regard to each other, and everyone associated with those of his own opinion, and began already to stand in opposition one to another; so that seditions arose everywhere, while those that were for innovations, and were desirous of war, by their youth and boldness, were too hard for the aged and prudent men.
Jesus’ saying accurately describes the demographic strife (young versus old) that attended the period of turmoil in Jerusalem about the year 68.
26 Baptised by fire
In the gospel story, Jesus declares, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) John the Baptist says of Jesus that he, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
It is significant that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the power that energised the first believers, is linked to the theme of fire.
To explain the link, the writer of Acts has Peter quote the Old Testament prophet, Joel. Peter allegedly spoke these words to explain the phenomena of Pentecost witnessed in Jerusalem after the ascension of the saviour.
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. (Acts 2:17-20)
The portents of blood, fire and smoke are designated signs of the last days and actually appeared when Jerusalem was consigned to the flames. Peter’s speech refers to a contemporaneous event. The baptism by fire was experienced by believers who were trapped in Jerusalem.
Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it. …but they [the Romans] ran everyone through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night.
Indeed, what Isaiah had prophesied was fulfilled.
And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (66:24)
27 Poverty in Palestine
Paul collected money from the diaspora Church to help the poor saints in Jerusalem.
They [the Jerusalem elders] requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)
For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26)
PPoverty would have been the norm in Jerusalem and indeed throughout Palestine after the War. Wilson names economic collapse as one result of the War, “exacerbated by the awarding of lands to Roman veterans.”
28 Taking the kingdom by force
In Matthew we read,
There were several futile and violent attempts after John the Baptist (d. c.36 CE) to set up a Jewish kingdom. These attempts culminated in the general insurrection of 66-70 and effectively ceased when the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was taken. Other attempts at setting up a Jewish kingdom occurred after this, in 115 and 130, but assuming the gospel of Matthew was written before 115, we can adduce this passage to confirm that Jesus did not “appear” until after the rebellion was crushed in the year 70.
29 I will destroy this temple
At Jesus’ trial before the Council, Matthew says,
Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” (26:59-61)
This so-called “false” testimony contains a kernel of truth. The destruction of the physical temple created the conditions for the building of a new temple, the church. And the temple “made without hands” (Mark 14:58) was planted in the same place as the old temple was destroyed; Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7) The linking of the two events in time and place is significant.
30 The consolation of Israel
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. (Luke 2:25)
This consolation would have been sought AFTER 70 CE, that is after the city, the temple and the country had been laid waste.
31 The Acts of the Apostles is out of sync with its literary setting
Luke has the disciples say,
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
This passage would only have made sense in the 70’s not the 30’s, that is after Israel had been destroyed as a political state.
32 Paul quotes from a text that was written after 70
This is Paul’s quotation:
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)
This passage does not occur in the Old Testament, but does occur in Biblical Antiquities.
The phrase as it stands could have been in common use before the year 70, but why would Paul say, “as it is written” if he did not have in mind a particular written text?
33 Christ is “born” when Titus is powerful
Counting from Augustus, the seventh emperor in Rome was Titus if we leave out the three who reigned briefly in 68-69. (Galba, Otho and Vitellius) The great red dragon of Revelation chapter twelve has seven heads and ten horns. The reference is clearly to Titus, who was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. John says,
His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. (v.4)
Then the dragon stands before a pregnant woman who is about to give birth in order to devour the child of the woman. The child is born and is snatched away to God and to his throne. It is clear from the context that the child is the potential political Messiah Jesus.
Later we are told that
. . . the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (v.17)
The woman’s other children are Christians persecuted by the Roman authorities. The imagery suggests that Jesus is born during the reign of the dragon which has seven heads, that is Titus.
Evidence from extra-canonical works
34 The Epistle of Barnabas written after 70
Barnabas the Cyprian, also called Joseph the Levite, ordained apostle to the Gentiles with Paul, wrote one Epistle, valuable for the edification of the church, which is reckoned among the apocryphal writings.
Furthermore he says again, ‘Behold, those who tore down this temple will themselves build it.’ It is happening. For because of their fighting it was torn down by the enemies. And now the very servants of the enemies will themselves rebuild it. (16:3-4)
This letter was accepted as genuine by every early church father. One example is Clement of Alexandria.
In his eschatology, Barnabas speaks of the three kings being subdued by one king. (4:4) This seems to indicate that he was writing in the time of the third king of the Flavian dynasty, Domitian (81-96), while awaiting the emergence of the resurrected Nero.
35 Peter comes after Simon Magus
Simon the Magician, or Simon Magus who flourished during the reign of Claudius Caesar (41-54) is portrayed as the arch-heretic, and he preceded Peter, according to the theological principle that darkness always precedes light. Peter says in one of the Clementine Homilies,
It were possible, following this order, to perceive to what series Simon belongs, who came before me to the Gentiles, and to which I belong who have come after him, and have come in upon him as light upon darkness, as knowledge upon ignorance, as healing upon disease.
There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome—”Simoni Deo Sancto,” “To Simon the holy God.” And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him.
36 Jesus died in the year 58
An ancient document written by the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century) asserts that Peter did not preach to the Gentiles until twelve years after the preaching to the Jews. Clement relying on the authority of an older document called The Preaching of Peter, says,
Therefore Peter says that the Lord said to the apostles: If then any of Israel will repent, to believe in God through my name, his sins shall be forgiven him: (and) after twelve years go ye out into the world, lest any say: We did not hear.
From the account in Acts, preaching to Israel, that is the Jews, commenced at Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection, and we get the impression, although it is not specifically stated, that Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles followed shortly after the other early events recorded there.
There is another ancient source, a fragment published by Muratori, which deserves serious consideration. (Ludovico Muratori was an eighteenth century Italian historian, notable as a leading scholar of his age, and for his discovery of the Muratorian canon, the earliest known list of New Testament books.) The German theologian Von Dobschutz claims that this fragment is evidence of a tradition which rivals in antiquity and authority the chronology given by Luke.
The fragment contains the following information for Jesus.
1. Year of Birth: Q. Sulpito Camerino and C. Poppaeo Sabino (Consuls) – 9 AD
2. Year of Baptism: Valerio Asiatico II. and M. Juno Silano (Consuls) – 46 AD
3. Year of Death: Nerone III. and M. Valerio Messala (Consuls) – 58 AD
There are twelve years between the baptism of Jesus and his death, or to put it another way his ministry lasted twelve years. This may explain the twelve years mentioned by Clement. Jesus dies at the age of 49. We have already seen that another source, Irenaeus bishop of Lyon, has Jesus living into his late forties or fifties. (Item 1)
In our hypothesis, the religion (or preaching to all comers) began in the year 70. If we subtract twelve from 70 we get 58, which agrees with Muratori. Preaching to the Gentiles did not commence till after the Jewish War, which also agrees with Item 6. Our hypothesis neatly explains both sets of data, Muratori and the Preaching of Peter.
37 For the redemption of Jerusalem
The phrase for the redemption of Jerusalem, a catchcry during the revolt turns up in the gospel of Luke and also on a coin minted in Gamala, in northern Galilee, around 66 CE. The capture and destruction of Gamala and its inhabitants is reported in great detail in Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4.1. Luke says,
At that moment she [the prophetess Anna] came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child [Jesus] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
Danny Syon, of Israel Antiquities Authority reports the following.
Perhaps the most intriguing single find at Gamla is a coin. Only six of its kind are known, all of them found in the western quarters at Gamla, and all from the same pair of dies. It is a very crudely made bronze coin, obviously minted under improvised conditions and by an unskilled artisan. The obverse shows a cup, in clear imitation of the famous Jerusalem silver shekels which made their first appearance in the winter of 66 CE, which are generally accepted as showing one of the Temple utensils (AJC2:106–108). No doubt one of the Jerusalem coins served as a prototype for the Gamla coin, though no examples of the ‘models’ have been found to date.
The inscription starts around the cup and ends on the reverse, which carries no design. It states, in a mixture of paleo-Hebrew (biblical) and Aramaic (square) characters: “For the redemption of Jerusalem the Holy.” Ironically, a coin of ‘Akko-Ptolemais was found together with one of these, minted in honor of Vespasian when he landed there some months earlier on his way to crush the revolt.
No doubt these coins were produced during the siege or immediately preceding it, more as a propaganda effort than as currency, to make a political statement to the Jews, and possibly to the Romans. This coin challenges the traditional view of a fragmented Jewish front that was preoccupied mainly with internal strife and the defense of isolated sites by pockets of rebels, presenting Vespasian with an easy prey of towns and strongholds instead of a unified front. It shows that even under the most difficult conditions, the people of Gamla still remembered the original aims of the revolt, symbolized by ‘the redemption of Holy Jerusalem’.
38 Mary gives birth to Jesus under a date palm
In the Koran at Surah 19, Surah Maryam we read,
19. (The angel) said [to Mary]: “I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son.”
20. She said: “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?”
21. He said: “So (it will be), your Lord said: ‘That is easy for Me (Allah): And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allah).’ “
22. So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.
23. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She said: “Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!”
24. Then [the babe ‘Iesa (Jesus) or Jibrael (Gabriel)] cried unto her from below her, saying: “Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a water stream under you;
25. “And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you.”
26. “So eat and drink and be glad, and if you see any human being, say: ‘Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.’”
27. Then she brought him (the baby) to her people, carrying him. They said: “O Mary! Indeed you have brought a thing Fariya (an unheard mighty thing).
As interpreted by Islam, the angel Gabriel, the date palm, the water stream and Mary the mother of Jesus are depicted on more than one series of Roman coins first minted in the year 71. The winged angel did not appear in Christian art until the 4th century.
Another version of this story, also based on the coin motifs, is found in The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. This Latin text originated in the sixth or seventh centuries, about the same time as the Koran was written. In this version Mary is escaping to Egypt with the baby Jesus and being “fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert” rests under a palm tree. The man in the scene is not an angel but this time it is Joseph. In the story, the child Jesus commands the palm tree to bend down and provide fruit for his mother. When the tree rises again it releases “a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling.”
Both versions of the story as inspired by the coins tell of the coming of Jesus in the year 71.
That coins were used to settle questions of doctrine is illustrated by Matthew’s use of the Roman denarius in the teaching of Jesus about paying taxes. (22:17-21) In Lucian’s study of the religion of Astarte-Europa in Sidon he calls as witness the coinage of the district.
39 The witness of the Jewish Aggadah, Part 1
Theological disputations between Christians and Jews took place in the Middle Ages and there are detailed records of three of these. The Barcelona Disputation of 1263 before King James of Aragon was recorded by Nahmanides, one of the greatest figures in the history of Jewish learning, and Jewish spokesman at the disputation. He reports as follows,
Fray Paul [the Christian disputant] now resumed, and argued that it is stated in the Talmud that the Messiah has already come. He cited the Aggadah in the Midrash of Lamentations [II:57]: A certain man was ploughing and his cow lowed. An Arab passed by and said to him, “Jew, Jew, untie your cow, untie your plough, untie your coulter, for the Temple has been destroyed.” He untied his cow, he untied his plough, he untied his coulter. The cow lowed a second time. The Arab said to him, “Tie up your cow, tie up your plough, tie up your coulter, for your Messiah has been born.”
According to Yehiel another disputant from that era, the Aggadic parts of the Talmud were not regarded as having the same authority as the Halakhic parts. ‘You may believe them or disbelieve them as you wish, for no practical decision depends on them.’ Nevertheless, the Midrash shows that a Jewish tradition was supported at some time that the coming (or birth) of Jesus was tied to the destruction of the Temple.
40 The witness of the Jewish Aggadah, Part 2
A Jewish tradition has Jesus invisibly present in Rome, until he has caused its ruin. In the Vikuah of Nahmanides we read,
Fray Paul asked me [Nahmanides] whether the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke has come, and I said that he has not come. And he cited an Aggadic book in which it is stated that on the day that the Temple was destroyed, on that very day, the Messiah was born.
Nahmanides admits this is true but goes on to say that he does not believe this. After some discussion the King asks; “Where is the Messiah at present?” And after further discussion, “But have you not said, in the Aggadah, that he is in Rome?” Nahmanides replies,
I said to him, ‘I did not say that he was permanently in Rome, but that he appeared in Rome on a certain day, for Elijah told that Sage that he would find him there on that particular day, and he did appear there; and his appearance there was for the reason mentioned in the Aggadah, but I prefer not to mention it before such throngs of people.’ The matter which I did not wish to reveal to them was what is said in the Aggadah: that the Messiah would remain in Rome until he brought about its ruin. This is just as we find with Moses our teacher, on him be peace, that he grew in the household of Pharaoh until he called him to account and drowned all his people in the sea.
The ruin of Rome is to be brought about by the Messiah as an act of revenge for the Roman treatment of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem. The appearance of the Messiah in Rome occurs after the Jewish revolt.
41 The Evangelium: “since the day that you were exiled from your land”
It is reported in the Babylonian Talmud (c. 200-500 CE)
‘Since the day that you were exiled from your land [ie 70CE] the Law of Moses has been superseded [lit. taken away] and another book given. [The reading in Cod. Oxford is: and the law of the Evangelium has been given.]
The full context of the above passage follows. The philosopher or judge in the story appears to be a Christian Jew. The other actors in the story are Jews.
Now, a certain philosopher [sectarian] lived in his vicinity, and he bore a reputation that he did not accept bribes. [he was a judge] They wished to expose him [lit. make sport of him], so she brought him a golden lamp, went before him, [and] said to him, ‘I desire that a share be given me in my [deceased] father’s estate.’ ‘Divide,’ ordered he. Said he [R. Gamaliel] to him, ‘It is decreed for us, Where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit.’ [He replied], ‘Since the day that you were exiled from your land the Law of Moses has been superseded [lit. taken away] and another book given [The reading in Cod. Oxford is: and the law of the Evangelium has been given.], wherein it is written, ‘A son and a daughter inherit equally.’ [There is no passage in any known Gospel that a son and daughter inherit alike. However, Paul in Galatians 3:28 says, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.]
The story illustrates the notion that the Law ended when the new law of the Christian Evangelium (the “good news” or gospel) began, that is in the year 70.
41a The witness of the Avodah Zarah from your land”
The Avodah Zarah is the name of a tractate of the Talmud that deals with foreign worship. In it we find the following words which indicate that Jesus was alive during the lifetime of the Rabbi Akiva, who lived from about 50 to 135 CE.
Rabbi Eliezer said to him: Akiva, you are right, as you have reminded me that once I was walking in the upper marketplace of Tzippori, and I found a man who was one of the students of Jesus the Nazarene, and his name was Ya’akov of Kefar Sekhanya. He said to me: It is written in your Torah: “You shall not bring the payment to a prostitute, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord your God.”
42 The witness of Maimonides
The coming of Jesus (and Christianity) is linked with the destruction of Israel.
Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also alluded to in Daniel’s prophecies, as ibid. 11:14 states: ‘The vulgar among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.’ Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity? All the prophets spoke of Mashiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior who would gather their dispersed and strengthen their observance of the mitzvot [commandments]. In contrast, Christianity caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord.
It was not Christianity that caused the Jews to be slain but rather the slaying of the Jews that gave rise to Christianity.
Evidence from Roman historians
43 Messianic hopes were highest just prior to 66
Messianic hopes were highest just prior to the year 66, NOT during the reign of Tiberius. The destruction of the temples in Rome in the great fire of 64 would have been seen as paving the way for a new religion.
A firm persuasion had long prevailed through all the East, that it was fated for the empire of the world, at that time, to devolve on some who should go forth from Judea. This prediction referred to a Roman emperor, as the event shewed; but the Jews, applying it to themselves, broke out into rebellion.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the prophecy recorded by Suetonius had traction with Gentiles as well as Jews. This would explain the appeal of Christianity to Gentiles who had absorbed these expectations; hence fertile ground for the preaching of Paul and others at that time.
44 Titus, the destruction of the Temple, Judaism and Christianity
It is said that Titus first called a council and deliberated whether he should destroy such a mighty temple. For some thought that a consecrated shrine, which was famous beyond all other works of men, ought not to be razed, arguing that its preservation would bear witness to the moderation of Rome, while its destruction would for ever brand her cruelty. Yet others, including Titus himself, opposed, holding the destruction of this temple to be a prime necessity in order to wipe out more completely the religion of the Jews and the Christians; for they urged that these religions, although hostile to each other, nevertheless sprang from the same sources; the Christians had grown out of the Jews: if the root were destroyed, the stock would easily perish.
This story seems to be another Tacitean invention as there is no other evidence that the Christians were persecuted by Titus, or that he regarded them as a threat. The Christians for their part would have had no interest in the Temple as a place of worship. But the passage does show that the emergence of Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity were linked to the same event, the destruction of the Temple.
45 Paul, circumcision and the poll tax
Paul disavows the Jewish custom of circumcision and sides with the Romans under Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, thus creating a theologically acceptable way for his Gentile followers to avoid paying the poll tax.
The Jewish poll tax was instituted by Vespasian to replace the temple tax after the temple was destroyed. Proceeds went instead to the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome. It seems to have continued until the year 362 when it was abolished by the emperor Julian. Suetonius reports that under Domitian, the scope of the tax was broadened.
Besides the exactions from others, the poll-tax on the Jews was levied with extreme rigour, both on those who lived after the manner of Jews in the city, without publicly professing themselves to be such, and on those who, by concealing their origin, avoided paying the tribute imposed upon that people. I remember, when I was a youth, to have been present, when an old man, ninety years of age, had his person exposed to view in a very crowded court, in order that, on inspection, the procurator might satisfy himself whether he was circumcised.
Those who lived after the manner of the Jews would be God-fearers (Gentiles sympathetic to Judaism) or Jewish proselytes and could also be Jewish Christians or just ethnic Jews who didn’t want to pay the tax. The distinguishing mark was physical circumcision. Gentile Christians who followed Paul would have been exempt. Paul says,
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. (Romans 2:28-29)
Promoting a promising sect that avoided a tax while reaping all the benefits of its parent religion would have suited the apostles to the Gentiles and their followers. Berger and Lukmann in the Social Construction of Reality explain how this works at the group level.
Frequently an ideology is taken on by a group because of specific theoretical elements that are conducive to its interests. For example, when an impoverished peasant group struggles against an urban merchant group that has financially enslaved it, it may rally around a religious doctrine that upholds the virtues of agrarian life, condemns the money economy and its credit system as immoral, and generally decries the luxuries of urban living. The ideological ‘gain’ of such a doctrine for the peasants is obvious. Good illustrations of this may be found in the history of ancient Israel.
Evidence from Josephus
46 A new Roman religion predicted by the high priest Ananus in 69 CE
After robbers, zealots and renegades plundered Jerusalem, dishonoured the temple and killed the eminent citizens, the high priest Ananus (69 CE) predicted the emergence of a new, better religion with Roman sensibilities. Josephus, the Jewish historian, reports that Ananus said,
How then can we avoid shedding of tears, when we see the Roman donations in our temple, while we withal see those of our own nation taking our spoils, and plundering our glorious metropolis, and slaughtering our men, from which enormities those Romans themselves would have abstained? to see those Romans never going beyond the bounds allotted to profane persons, nor venturing to break in upon any of our sacred customs; nay, having a horror on their minds when they view at a distance those sacred walls; while some that have been born in this very country, and brought up in our customs, and called Jews, do walk about in the midst of the holy places, at the very time when their hands are still warm with the slaughter of their own countrymen. For truly, if we may suit our words to the things they represent, it is probable one may hereafter find the Romans to be the supporters of our laws, and those within ourselves the subverters of them. (Wars of the Jews, Book 4.3.10)
47 Praying for those in authority
Paul’s instruction to pray for kings and all in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2) echoes the moral imperative that Josephus stated in his history of the Jewish Wars. It was during that time that certain of the seditious including Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, “persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner.” According to Josephus this affront “was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar.” This prohibition was seen as the highest form of impiety. Paul’s instruction to the church to pray for Caesar makes more sense if given after the War. He didn’t want the church to repeat the mistakes of the past.
48 There is no mention of Paul (or Christians) in Josephus’ histories
There is no mention of Paul (or any other Christians) in Josephus’ histories of the Jews. The book Wars of the Jews ends in 75 CE with the death of Catullus, the governor of the Libyan Pentapolis. The book Antiquities of the Jews ends in the 13th year of Domitian or 93 CE.
Josephus was a friend of Herod Agrippa II (c. 28–c. 95) who was the last client ruler of Rome from the Herodian dynasty. Josephus says that Agrippa wrote 62 letters to him, and “attested to the truth of what I [Josephus] had therein delivered” and that he, Josephus, used this information to compile his history of the Jews. Apparently in one of these letters, Agrippa wrote that he would inform Josephus of a great many things which he didn’t know. The emperor Titus as the patron of Josephus also took a keen interest in the contents of the histories.
In the Acts of the Apostles there is a long interview between this king and the apostle Paul, in which Paul is given every opportunity to defend himself and the new religion. (Acts 25:13, 26:32) The date of this interview is set around 59 when the Roman governor, Porcius Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over as the new procurator of Judea. According to the account in Acts the king expressed a great deal of interest in the philosophy of Paul and the career of Jesus, and Paul in the presence of the king and Festus says,
Indeed the king [Agrippa] knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. (Acts 26:26)
However, despite the alleged clear interest shown by the king in Paul and his theology, and his apparent prior knowledge of the new religion, none of this appears in the history of Josephus, who was the king’s friend and confidante.
This indicates that either Josephus deliberately omitted any reference to Paul or Christianity or the account in Acts is partly or wholly fabricated. I favour the latter conclusion as it is most unlikely that the king Agrippa would have given audience to an itinerant preacher who had no standing within the Jewish community, and whose reputation as a troublemaker had been well established. It is also worth noting that Josephus never mentions Christians even though they existed on the Italian peninsula while he was in Rome after the year 70. This could be because their numbers were too small to attract his attention in so large a city or if he did write something about them those references have been redacted from his histories by Christian scribes or else lost.
49 The Father and the Son
Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53)
Church historian Orosius (4th century) declares,
The emperors Vespasian and Titus celebrated their victory over the Jews by a magnificent triumphal entry into Rome. Of all the three hundred and twenty triumphs that had been held from the founding of the City until that time, so fair and strange a sight had not been seen by man—father and son riding in the same triumphal chariot after their glorious victory over those who had offended the Father and the Son.
The son basks in the glory of the father
…of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father (Mark 8:38)
At the victory parade in Rome,
And as soon as ever it was day, Vespasian and Titus came out crowned with laurel, and clothed in those ancient purple habits which were proper to their family. After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. After which Vespasian marched in the first place, and Titus followed him.
The son hands out punishments and blessings
For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. (Matthew 16:27)
The Jews are punished by Titus, the son.
Vespasian [the father] turned his thoughts to what remained unsubdued in Judea. However, he himself made haste to go to Rome, as the winter was now almost over, and soon set the affairs of Alexandria in order, but sent his son Titus, with a select part of his army, to destroy Jerusalem.
Titus was then present with his father, and said, “O father, it is but just that the scandal [of a prisoner] should be taken off Josephus, together with his iron chain. For if we do not barely loose his bonds, but cut them to pieces, he will be like a man that had never been bound at all.” For that is the usual method as to such as have been bound without a cause. This advice was agreed to by Vespasian also; so there came a man in, and cut the chain to pieces; while Josephus received this testimony of his integrity for a reward, and was moreover esteemed a person of credit as to futurities also.
The son copies the father
… the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
Vespasian [the father] accepted of these shouts of theirs; but while they were still disposed to go on in such acclamations, he gave them a signal of silence. And when everybody entirely held their peace, he stood up, and covering the greatest part of his head with his cloak, he put up the accustomed solemn prayers; the like prayers did Titus put up also.
The Holy Trinity
But what made the most splendid appearance in Titus’s opinion was, when his father met him, and received him; but still the multitude of the citizens conceived the greatest joy when they saw them all three together, [Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian] as they did at this time.
And Jesus proclaims,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
Arguments from theology
50 Domitian hates the shedding of sacrificial blood
Upon his first succeeding to power, . . . felt such an abhorrence for the shedding of blood, that, before his father’s arrival in Rome, calling to mind the verse of Virgil, . . . he designed to have published a proclamation, “to forbid the sacrifice of oxen.”
The teachers of the new religion had said that Jesus’ death put an end to the Temple sacrifices. Paul says,
They [the believers] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood. (Romans 3:24-25)
The writer to the Hebrews, who may have been Paul’s co-worker Apollos declared that the cult of temple animal sacrifices had been discharged in the shedding of the blood of one man, Jesus. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
The Old Testament prophets could also be quoted to support this idea.
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. (Amos 5:21-22)
It is significant fact that the opinion of the emperor agreed with a basic tenet of the new religion. No doubt there were others in the empire who shared the views of the emperor. Whatever the extent of the feeling or the changes in sacrificial procedures, Christianity would benefit; the arguments of the apostles would make more sense in this social environment. Note that Domitian had this proclamation in mind before his father Vespasian came to Rome. That would have been in the year 70.
51 Paul wrote after the law was ended
Paul’s attitude to the Mosaic Law was shaped by the events of 66-70.
Paul says that:
- those under the Law lack freedom – as the Jews did in the siege of Jerusalem (Romans 7:25)
- those under the Law are under a curse (Galatians 3:10)
- the Law brings the wrath of God (Romans 4:15)
- the Law brings death (2 Corinthians 3:7)
- the Law provokes sin (Romans 5:20)
- the Law locks people up (Galatians 3:23)
All these things happened in the seminal period of the insurrection, due to the Jew’s stubborn insistence on keeping the letter of the Law.
Now Paul says that God has “abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances.” (Ephesians 2:14) This has been achieved by the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul says,
For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
Christ is the culmination of the law τελος νομου (telos nomou) “the close of the Law,” i.e. “He who brings it to an end.”
By an act of God through the agency of the Romans, the Law was ended dramatically in 70 CE, at the same time as Jesus appeared and was sacrificed for national sins.
52 The believers are the spiritual stones of a new Temple
. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
Do you not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you [plural]? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:20-21)
The idea that the believers metaphorically fulfilled the functions of stones in a new temple would have more easily arisen after the stones of the physical temple had been thrown down in the year 70.
53 The destruction of the temple in 70 CE left a prophetic vacuum
The destruction of the temple and the Sanhedrin in 70 CE left a prophetic vacuum, that needed to be filled. Ananus, the good high priest had been murdered. The prophetic vacuum was filled theologically by Jesus.
Justin Martyr in his argument with the Jews asserts that,
But after the manifestation and death of our Jesus Christ in your nation, there was and is nowhere any prophet: nay, further, you ceased to exist under your own king, your land was laid waste, and forsaken like a lodge in a vineyard.
A parallel situation had occurred 200 years before. In the first Book of Maccabees, we read,
So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. (4:46)
The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise. (14:41)
54 The punishment of the Jews not delayed
Was there a forty-year delay between the killing of Christ and the punishment of the Jews? The writer of the second book of Maccabees says this is not how God deals with his people. In referencing recent events in the second century BCE, he says,
Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people. In fact, it is a sign of great kindness not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately. For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. (6:12-15)
55 The Jerusalem survivors are called by God
There was not a total massacre of the besieged in Jerusalem as Titus sold many into slavery and spared some 40,000.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32)
The Jewish believers naturally read themselves into the prophecy as the survivors whom the Lord had called, and their physical baptism by fire did indeed empower the new religion. As Isaiah prophesied,
Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:3-4)
56 The Way
Early Christians were called people of the Way. This term would have gained currency in the aftermath of the War as it was linked to key prophecies, which cited Jerusalem.
Skarsaune and Hvalvik make the following observation.
The way (η οδος): This was evidently the term the first Jewish Christians used for their form of Judaism. The absolute usage occurs five times in Acts (9:2; 19:9,23; 24:14,22; cf. 22:4: “this Way”), where we also find “the Way of the Lord” (18:25) and “the Way of God” (18:26).
The Way is connected with the conclusion of God’s punishment upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The punishment ended in the year 70.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ (40:2-3)
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (30:19-21)
The Teacher was Jesus. The new religion was called the Way.