Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ekphrasis, Atwill, Isis, and the TF

About six months ago I summarized Joseph Atwill's arguments regarding the TF and its surrounding passages.

Fundamentally, Atwill regards the two paragraphs immediately following the TF as parodies of Jesus and early Christianity. As I noted before:

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."

In the discussion, with Rod Green taking the negative side, he pointed me to this article on Josephus and these two passages. In it the author offers some additional pieces of information.

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.


This linkage was not forgotten by Domitian, as his building program on the Campus Martius clearly shows. In addition to rebuilding the Isis temple, Domitian also erects an arch to Isis. 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 interesting thing about that is that the first of the alleged parodies takes place in the Temple of Isis, in which a man dressed as Anubis, who re-appears three days later to confess that he wasn't a god, occurs in a Temple whose Goddess was associated with the conquest of Judaea. Even more interestingly, Domitian built an arch to Isis that represents Judaea's submission to Rome, complete with Anubis and Isis, two characters in the story of Josephus.

In Greek fiction a common practice is ekphrasis, the description of a painting or other object. In many cases this description gives clues to the reader about some aspect of the story -- who the characters represent, or what the future has in store for them. Here we may have a case of that operating in reverse -- the description of the tale with Anubis and Isis is meant to draw the reader back to the arch, and the conquest of Judaea. This association between Isis and Judaea may strengthen Atwill's argument that the tale, in which someone comes back in three days to declare they are not a god, is parody of Jesus.

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