Monday, July 04, 2005

Atwill on the TF

This posting will summarize Atwill's arguments from his new book Caesar's Messiah (my review) on the famous passage about Jesus in Josephus, the Testamonium Flavianum (TF).

First, the TF and the passages that follow it (Whiston translation). Read them closely, especially the second one.

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him did not at first forsake him, for he appeared to them alive the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs. There was at Rome a woman whose name was Paulina; one who, on account of the dignity of her ancestors, and by the regular conduct of a virtuous life, had a great reputation: she was also very rich; and although she was of a beautiful countenance, and in that flower of her age wherein women are the most gay, yet did she lead a life of great modesty. She was married to Saturninus, one that was every way answerable to her in an excellent character. Decius Mundus fell in love with this woman. He was a man very high in the equestrian order; and as she was of too great dignity to be caught by presents, and had already rejected them, though they had been sent in great abundance, he was still more inflamed with love to her, insomuch that he promised to give her two hundred thousand Attic drachmae for one night's lodging; and when this would not prevail upon her, and he was not able to bear this misfortune in his amours he thought it the best way to famish himself to death for want of food, on account of Paulina's sad refusal; and he determined with himself to die after such a manner, and he went on with his purpose accordingly. Now Mundus had a freed-woman, who had been made free by his father, whose name was Ide, one skillful in all sorts of mischief. This woman was very much grieved at the young man's resolution to kill himself, (for he did not conceal his intentions to destroy himself from others,) and came to him, and encouraged him by her discourse, and made him to hope, by some promises she gave him, that he might obtain a night's lodging with Paulina; and when he joyfully hearkened to her entreaty, she said she wanted no more than fifty thousand drachmae for the entrapping of the woman. So when she had encouraged the young man, and gotten as much money as she required, she did not take the same methods as had been taken before, because she perceived that the woman was by no means to be tempted by money; but as she knew that she was very much given to the worship of the goddess Isis, she devised the following stratagem: She went to some of Isis's priests, and upon the strongest assurances [of concealment], she persuaded them by words, but chiefly by the offer of money, of twenty-five thousand drachmae in hand, and as much more when the thing had taken effect; and told them the passion of the young man, and persuaded them to use all means possible to beguile the woman. So they were drawn in to promise so to do, by that large sum of gold they were to have. Accordingly, the oldest of them went immediately to Paulina; and upon his admittance, he desired to speak with her by herself. When that was granted him, he told her that he was sent by the god Anubis, who was fallen in love with her, and enjoined her to come to him. Upon this she took the message very kindly, and valued herself greatly upon this condescension of Anubis, and told her husband that she had a message sent her, and was to sup and lie with Anubis; so he agreed to her acceptance of the offer, as fully satisfied with the chastity of his wife. Accordingly, she went to the temple, and after she hadsupped there, and it was the hour to go to sleep, the priest shut the doors of the temple, when, in the holy part of it, the lights were also put out. Then did Mundus leap out, (for he was hidden therein,) and did not fail of enjoying her, who was at his service all the night long, as supposing he was the god; and when he was gone away, which was before those priests who knew nothing of this stratagem were stirring, Paulina came early to her husband, and told him how the god Anubis had appeared to her. Among her friends, also, she declared how great a value she put upon this favor, who partly disbelieved the thing, when they reflected on its nature, and partly were amazed at it, as having no pretense for not believing it, when they considered the modesty and the dignity of the person. But now, on the third day after what had been done, Mundus met Paulina, and said, "Nay, Paulina, thou hast saved me two hundred thousand drachmae, which sum thou mightest have added to thy own family; yet hast thou not failed to be at my service in the manner I invited thee. As for the reproaches thou hast laid upon Mundus, I value not the business of names; but I rejoice in the pleasure I reaped by what I did, while I took to myself the name of Anubis." When he had said this, he went his way. But now she began to come to the sense of the grossness of what she had done, and rent her garments, and told her husband of the horrid nature of the wicked contrivance and prayed him not to neglect to assist her in this case. So he discovered the fact to the emperor; whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide, who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman. He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber; while he only banished Mundus, but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love. And these were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests.
I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews at Rome, as I formerly told you I would. There was a man who was a Jew, but he had been driven away from his own country by an accusation laid against him for transgressing their laws, and by the fear he was under of punishment for the same; but in all respects a wicked man. He, then living at Rome, professed to instruct men in the wisdom of the laws of Moses. He procured also three other men, entirely of the same character with himself, to be his partners. These men persuaded Fulvia, a woman of great dignity, and one that had embraced the Jewish religion, to send purple and gold to the temple at Jerusalem; and when they had gotten them, they employed them for their own uses, and spent the money themselves, on which account it was that they at first required it of her. Whereupon Tiberius, who had been informed of the thing by Saturninus, the husband of Fulvia, who desired inquiry might be made about it, ordered all the Jews to be banished out of Rome; at which time the consuls listed four thousand men out of them, and sent them to the island Sardinia; but punished a greater number of them, who were unwilling to become soldiers, on account of keeping the laws of their forefathers. Thus were these Jews banished out of the city by the wickedness of four men."

As Atwill began to consider these passages, he noted that the second one says the Temple of Isis was destroyed under Tiberius. But Josephus later records that Temple as still standing, for Josephus wrote that Vespasian and Titus had spent the night before the celebration of the completion of the Judaic war at the temple of Isis. Why had Josephus written something that he knew was false?

The second discordant note in the passages was the name of the protagonist in the second tale, Decius Mundus, or "Decius World." Decius Mus was a famous soldier, who, according to legend, was the son in a father-son pair, both of whom had sacrificed themselves in a Roman rite known as devotio. In a devotio, a Roman soldier sacrifices his own life during a fierce battle to appease the gods of both sides, and perhaps induce the enemy's gods to come over to the Roman side. He is one who sacrifices himself for the many. To Atwill, Decius Mundus looked like a parody of Decius Mus, all the more so because mundus means world, while mus denotes mouse. As Atwill notes: "If a playwright created a character named Napoleon World, it would be obvious which character in history he was lampooning. Decius was perhaps Rome's most famous war hero and all patricians were aware of his exploits." This connection is further established by the fact that the writer of the passages says that Decius Mundus had resolved to kill himself (when Paulina failed to smile on his suit), just as Decius Mus actually did. Atwill also observes that as one who died for the many, Decius Mus is a strong parallel to Jesus. Indeed, Atwill points out, in the Gospel of John Caiaphas defines Jesus' death in just that way.

Atwill then notes the very interesting fact that both tales have essentially the same plot. In both tales wicked priests trick a woman of "dignity", taking advantage of her weakness for religion. Atwill points out:

"Further, not only do both stories have the same plot, but they also contain a number of elements that are interchangeable. Both of these deceived women of dignity, amazingly, have husbands named Saturninus. Both these husbands named "Saturninus" just happen to know the Emperor Tiberius, to whom each husband goes to complain about what has been done to his wife. In both tales, among other punishments, Tiberius then "banishes" one or more of the perpetrators."

Atwill also argues that Josephus has left us another clue. First he says another sad calamity befell the Jews at Rome, and then he mentions the problems at the Temple of Isis. But in telling the tale, he reverses this order. Why is this significant? Atwill writes:

Further, at the beginning of the third story Josephus claims to be returning to an episode about the Jews "at Rome" as he had "formerly" stated.

I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews at Rome, as I formerly told you I would.

However, it was the "shameful practices at the temple of Isis" that Josephus previously claimed to have occurred "at Rome," not the episode regarding the Jews.

Josephus' last mention of the Jews was in connection with Pilate. In other words, Josephus treats the stories as though they are interchangeable.

The next oddity that Atwill flags is Paulina rending her clothing when she discovers what had happened. This is a quintessential Jewish expression of grief, one required by Jewish law in some circumstances. The problem is that Paulina is not a Jew but a noble Roman woman, a member of the cult of Isis. It is Fulvia in the other story who is the Jewish woman, but she does not rend her garments. Another instance of the strange interchangeability of the stories?

Atwill then slips another clue into place. I will let him tell the tale in his own words:

The Testimonium describes Jesus' resurrection, stating that he "appeared to them alive again on the third day." Decius Mundus also appears to Paulina on the third day. There is, of course, a difference. Whereas Jesus appears on the third day, to show that he is a God, Decius appears on the third day to announce that he is not a god. It is implausible that something as unusual as two "third-day divinity declarations" would wind up next to one another by chance.

The Testimonium contains the only non-New Testament first-century description of the life of Jesus. The probability that a mirror opposite of Jesus' resurrection, a singular event in literature, would occur by chance in the paragraph following its only historical documentation is, I believe, too low for consideration. In fact, in all of literature these are the only two stories I am aware of that describe anyone coming on a "third day" to proclaim that he is or is not a god. The only rational explanation is that this mirror-opposite parallel has, for some reason, been placed next to the Testimonium deliberately.

Furthermore, Decius is pretending to be Anubis, a god with many parallels to Jesus, as Atwill observes. Anubis was killed and resurrected, and within the cult of Isis, was known as the royal child. He was also the son of a god. Another link between the three stories Atwill notes is that they are all said to have occurred at about the same time. [Note: As Jackalope at IIDB pointed out, this describes Osiris, not Anubis. Anubis is the God of the Dead. Atwill seems to be in error here. As a God of the Dead the parody is even more biting, however.]{A friend of Atwill's posting to the same thread says that the error was caught during editing but did not get changed in the final version]

Atwill then picks up yet another parallel between the tales and early Christianity. Josephus writes:

There was a man who was a Jew, but he had been driven away from his own country by an accusation laid against him for transgressing their laws, and by the fear he was under of punishment for the same; but in all respects a wicked man. He, then living at Rome, professed to instruct men in the wisdom of the laws of Moses.

Of course, there is a historic individual who did all these things: the Apostle Paul. The wicked man of the Fulvia tale is a lampoon of Paul. What is the name of the woman in the other story?

Given the interchangeability of the elements, Atwill says, the stories must be regarded as a puzzle for the reader to solve. Where do we start? "Josephus actually has Decius Mundus state the solution to the puzzle within the lampoon:

. . . value not the business of names . . ."

The tales are interchangeable, observes Atwill: "Both women have an experience with wicked priests; both have husbands with the same name; both husbands appeal to Tiberius; and both women share the quality of dignity." We can also switch Christ from the TF into the tale: They both claim to be gods, they both make revelations regarding their divinity on the third day; and they both have made public resolutions to sacrifice themselves. The tale thus resolves into a tale with obvious parallels to Christian history: Decius (representing Rome) cannot buy a Jewish woman (representing the land of the Jews), so he tricks her, pretending to be a god (just as Jesus is a fictional Roman creation, in Atwill's view). The issue of his identity is resolved on the third day. The Jews are banished, and the Temple is demolished (recall that Josephus knows that the Temple of Isis was not actually demolished). Once the reader switches the names around, something very like history as we understand it emerges. Atwill adds: "Once the reader knows that the stories are designed to have interchangeable elements, it is not difficult to see that by switching their genders Paulina can become Paul, which completely clarifies the identity of the "Jew at Rome."

Atwill argues that the parallels and interchangeable story elements that link the TF and the two passages that follow it show that all three stories must have been created together, a claim with far-reaching effects. Atwill believes that scholars who have argued that the TF is an interpolation because of the percieved discontinuity between the previous passage and the following one are wrong. Another point in favor of their creation together can be deduced from the way the passages interrupt the story of Pilate:

18:35 Pilate arrives in Judea to abolish Jewish laws
18:55–59 Pilate introduces imperial images in the temple, causing a "tumult"
18:60–62 Pilate tries to build an aqueduct, causing another "tumult"
18:63–64 The Testimonium appears
18:65–80 The Decius Mundus story appears
18:81–84 The Fulvia story appears
18:85–7 Pilate has a confrontation with the Samaritans
18:88–9 Pilate is removed as procurator

It is easy to see that all three stories, taken together, also interrupt the flow of the narration. Their placement here as a group would then explain how it is that two "three day divinity revelation" tales happened to appear right next to each other: the design is deliberate, Atwill argues.

Atwill next turns to linguistic links between the various passages in question. I will let him tell the tale in his own words:

In the Testimonium, Jesus is described as a teacher of people who "accept the truth with pleasure." The Greek word for pleasure that Josephus uses is hedone, the root for the English word "hedonism." Scholars have puzzled over Josephus use of hedone here. Hedone usually denotes sensual or malicious pleasure, and "to accept the truth with hedone" is a strange concept. The sentence that Josephus wrote in Greek could just as well be translated "received the truth with malicious pleasure."
The verb Josephus uses in this phrase is dechomenon, which means to receive, the phrase in Greek reading hedonei talethe dechomenon. In the Decius Mundus tale, Decius also receives something with "sensual pleasure." Decius receives the plot Ide hatches to enable him to seduce Paulina with sensual pleasure—hedone, the Greek reading dechomenou ten hiketeian hedonei.
The same verb, dechomenou (meaning "to accept or receive"), is used with hedone in the Testimonium.

Another interesting use of the word hedone occurs in the introduction to the War of the Jews. There Josephus writes;

I have comprehended all these things in seven books, and have left no occasion for complaint or accusation to such as have been acquainted with this war; and I have written it down for the sake of those that love truth, but not for those that please themselves [with fictitious relations]. And I will begin my account of these things with what I call my First Chapter.

According to Atwill Whiston could not make sense of the phrase in brackets. Atwill writes:

The Greek words that Josephus uses here, hêdonên anegrapsa, do not mean "please themselves with fictitious relations" but rather please themselves with registering. When used in connection with a person, as it is here, the stem word, anagrapho, means to register or record names.

If one recalls the name-switching Atwill argues took place in this passage, the Greek of Josephus' introduction to Wars makes sense in a very illuminating way.

Atwill argues that Josephus was written to complement the Gospel tales, and that both sets of texts know of each other. This would imply that the TF is integral and original to Josephus. Assuming Atwill's insight on the relationships between these three passages is on target, several positions suggest themselves:

1. The TF is a later interpolation, along with the other two passages.
2. The other two passages were interpolated later to make fun of the TF, which is authentic.
3. All three are authentic and integral to Josephus.

Regardless of which position one accepts, Atwill's interpretation rules out Meier's reconstruction of the passage (taken from Doherty's page on the TF):

"Now about this time there lived Jesus a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works and a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place had come to love him did not forsake him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, continues to the present day."

Atwill's TF must contain the "third day" reference in order for it to make sense in light of the following two passages. Hence the original TF, whether inserted, or authentic and merely parodied, must have contained the '"third day" reference.


PS: Just for fun, I thought I would offer some parallels from the earlier, longer story. From some angles Josephus seems to contain several pieces, or microcosms, or parodies, of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ide betrays Paulina..........
Judas betrays Jesus

Ide gives money to the priests..........
Judas gets money from the priests

the oldest priest goes to Paulina representing the god Anubis
the high priest interrogates Jesus representing the god YHWH

Paulina sups at the Temple with the god prior to his manifestation
Last supper on Mt Olivet facing Temple with the son of god

Paulina tells all her friends how the god appeared to her
women at the tomb tell no one

Mundus reveals his non-divine identity to Paulina
women are the first to hear of the resurrection

Paulina rends her garments when she finds out Anubis is really Decius Mundus
the High Priests rend his garments at the blasphemy of Jesus claiming to be God

the case is taken to Tiberius
the case is taken to Pilate

the priests are crucified
Jesus is crucified

The Temple is destroyed
The Temple is destroyed

Mundus acted out of love
Jesus acted out of love

UPDATE: Rod Green at in discussion at JM on the TF pointed out this article which notes that

The most problematic feature of Domitian's "love affair" with Isis, from a Josephan perspective, would probably have been the fact that Domitian, like his Flavian predecessors, linked the goddess Isis with the successful military conquest of Judaea.

It can't be a coincidence that the Temple linked with the conquest of Judaea is the place where the parodist located his tale of Jesus. The article also notes that:

Minerva stands in the center of this arch, flanked by Isis and Anubis. Above the gods is a depiction of captives chained to palm trees, a symbolic representation of Judaea's defeat and submission after the war with Rome.

The writer may have made the connection from the arch......Here's your conflation of Isis, Anubis, and Judaea all in one package. The writer is engaging in a form of Greek fiction called ekphrasis, but in reverse. In that style the writer describes a physical object, usually a painting, but sometimes a statue, or anything, which displays a mythical or religious theme, said theme bearing on the story at hand. Here the writer is reversing this practice, describing the event based on the arch of Domitian he has seen in Rome.



Neil Godfrey said...

Don't forget one more "obvious" parallel -- the controversial (at least by inference in Acts and epistles) collection of money for Jerusalem by both Paul and the unnamed Jew who approached Fulvia.

Michael Turton said...

Actually, I was thinking about the Crucifixion in my list at the end. That's a very good parallel.....


Michael Turton said...

Also, I'm still working on a reply to your paper about the Gospel of Peter. Your comments and links about Petronius will be very useful in my writing on Mark. Many thanks.


Neil Godfrey said...

And I'm still in the middle of studying and revising my views of the Gospel of Peter, Mark and Justin with no idea where I'll end up on this topic yet. Look forward to your thoughts, though.

bbbv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kevin Rosero said...

How does the following reconstruction strike you? Josephus has planned to tell the story of Pilate from his arrival in Judea to his removal. He does in fact tell all of Pilate's story in more or less one block -- with a large interruption in the middle. Josephus has many things to tell, and the Jesus, Decius and Fulvia stories are perhaps already sitting in his mind as similar stories (your list of parallels would have impressed him conciously or subconsciously). He decides to put them here because it was Pilate who crucified Christ; and because the Decius Mundus story also features execution by crucifixion. Josephus, like all ancient authors, fits things in without the use of footnotes, and in putting together his narrative history he uses "thematic" segues whenever possible, particularly when he is unsure of the actual order of events. So Josephus puts these three stories together in a way that his audience will appreciate; and possibly also in a way that will denigrate the Messianic movement (he doesn't want to offend the Romans by giving any credence to Messianic movements). Maybe he even worded the Testimonium so that it paralleled, in a literary way, the ensuing two stories; but he's careful not to reject Jesus' story outright as a historical story; he toes the line nicely. Or as suggested, he just put the three together because his mind had already linked them and he needed to write about them somewhere.

The Testimonium as he writes it already mentions the "third day" (reporting Easter as a belief, not a fact). The TF then undergoes a few more Christian interpolations (like "if it be lawful to call him a man).

This reconstruction, I think, leaves the question of Jesus' historicity still unanswered.

Michael Turton said...

Kevin, I think the problem is that Decius is an obvious parody and Paulina seems to be a reference to Paul. The stories have a clear satirical purpose. They appear to be invented...

Anonymous said...


What is interesting is that extremely complex explanations for the literary parallels in the NT and Josephus are so often seen as more attractive than the notion that they are simply Jewish intertextual literature. Given that typology like that in Matthew's birth narrative and Peshers like Habakkuk are so common in the Jewish literature of the era, shouldn't the premise that the literary parallels between the NT and the works of Josephus are deliberate and have meaning - were intended to create a Raz - be the first one to explore?


Anonymous said...

I guess I am very late to join this discussion, but it seems to me that the idea that the temple of Isis incident has anything to do with the calamities of the Jews in Rome (which is very widely accepted) is due to a careless misreading of Josephus. Paulina is clearly a Roman woman. The reason Josephus says "I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews at Rome, as I formerly told you I would" is because he begins the Paulina story by saying, "About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs."

In other words, he is telling the reader that the story of the Jews is "to be continued" while he interpolates a spicy tale which is too good to miss. There is no connection with Jesus, St Paul, the Jews or anything else in Judaea. The connection is only with the deception of a wealthy and respectable Roman woman by foreigners.

Lior Burko said...

I totally agree about the parallels between the TF and the Decius Mundus story, but argue the parallel is different from the one presented here. The DM story is about someone pretending to be a god, to deceive a virtuous lady and take her astray from her marriage vows. For this DM is punished by banishment. This is indeed the same story as in the TF: Jesus pretends to be god, to deceive the virtuous People of Israel from its Covenant vows with the true God. Jesus is subsequently rejected by the Jews. This parallel would be much more appropriate for a pharisee Jew such as Josephus. Remember, Josephus wasn't a Christian, and has anti-messianic sentiments throughout his histories.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Flavian family was also high up in the equestrian order. I am still considering Atwill's hypothesis but I must say it is pretty strong. I don't think iv'e run across a well reasoned argument against it.

Anonymous said...

Another tidbit of a clue , is that (within the context of Atwills hypothesis) the Jesus figure can be seen as an attempt to woo the messianic jews God over to the roman cause. This is the same intention Decius Mus had with his sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

That the Paulina character is a personification of the jewish people is strengthened by the name of her husband. The deity Saturn was equated with the god Yahweh by the romans.