A Proposed Literary Parallel between Livy’s History of the Bacchanalian Conspiracy and the Stories about Rabble-Rousers and Religious Charlatans in the works of Flavius Josephus

Another Guest Post by David Blocker

A Proposed Literary Parallel between Livy’s History of the Bacchanalian Conspiracy and the Stories about Rabble-Rousers and Religious Charlatans in the works of Flavius Josephus

 The attached table can be found here:
Livy Bacchanalia vs Josephus Rabble Rousers and TF

A previous essay[1] demonstrated literary parallels linking the descriptions of Judean rabble-rousers and charlatans[2] in the works attributed to Flavius Josephus. The narratives could be subdivided into three groups attesting to the multiple authorship of the works of Flavius Josephus. The Testimonium Flavianum[3] was shown to be a poorly executed imitation of the other narratives about rabble-rousers and charlatans, indicating the Testimonium Flavianum had not been written by the original author(s) of Antiquities of the Jews.

Livy[4] wrote a popular History of Rome[5] during the reign of Caesar Augustus. In it, he gave a detailed account of the Bacchanalian Conspiracy[6].

The Bacchanalian Conspiracy was a foreign ecstatic cult that a disreputable Greek had introduced into Italy. The cult gained many followers among women and marginalized social groups. The cult’s secret initiation rites were unseemly and immoral. Cult members performed criminal acts in order to amass funds and influence. An informer brought the cult to the attention of the Roman authorities. In 186 BCE, the Roman Senate outlawed the cult, sought out and punished its followers, and placed harsh controls on its scattered survivors.

Livy composed his History[7] in Latin between 25 BCE and 9 CE. War of the Jews and Antiquities of the Jews were written in Greek after 70 CE and 90 CE respectively.

The stories about Rabble-rousers and charlatans in War of the Jews and Antiquities of the Jews, described the foundation, spread, and subsequent discovery and suppression of popular movements led by Judean rabble rousers and charlatans. This is the same narrative sequence used by Livy to describe the Bacchanalian conspiracy.

The accompanying table[8] compares Livy’s account of the Bacchanalian conspiracy to the accounts of Judean rabble-rousers found in War of the Jews, to a representative account taken from Antiquities of the Jews, and to the Testimonium Flavianum[9].

Each column of the table contains a selected text. The texts have been broken down into smaller blocks which contain shared concepts or words with similar meanings. These blocks of text were placed in individual cells and arranged into parallel rows.

The first column of the table lists the common or parallel narrative elements that are contained in each row of the table.

The table demonstrates the parallels between the accounts of Livy’s Bacchanalian conspirators, Josephus’ Rabble-Rousers and, to a lesser extent the Testimonium Flavianum. They have a common narrative progression; cells containing words with similar meanings are easily arranged into sequential rows. Analogous words or phrases that occur in the same row of the table have been color coded.

The table demonstrates the Rabble-rouser narratives in War of the Jews appear to have a good match with Livy’s account, both in terms of the number of matching rows, and the amount of color coded words and phrases in each text containing cell. According to H. St. John Thackeray, the rabble-rouser accounts in War of the Jews are in the chapters (“Books”) that were written by the first of Josephus’ Greek speaking co-authors, the one Thackeray called the “Attic Stylist”[10]. Josephus’ second literary assistant, whom Thackeray called the “Thucydian Hack”, co-authored the final books of Antiquities of the Jews.

The passages about Judean Rabble-rousers in Antiquities of the Jews also correlate well with Livy’s text. There are only a few empty or unmatched cells and there are still numerous color matches between Livy and Antiquities of the Jews. It is probable that Josephus’ second literary assistant understood and carefully followed the compositional methods used by Josephus’ first assistant, when making his contribution to Antiquities of the Jews.

The literary allusion to Livy’s Latin text in Josephus’ Greek texts indicates that Josephus’ first literary assistant, and possibly the second, were literate in both Latin and Greek. The first assistant was able to retrieve a section from one of the classics of Latin literature, and paraphrase it in Greek, and place the results in War of the Jews. Knowledge of Latin would have been helpful but not essential for the second assistant to follow the literary example set by the first assistant.

The descriptions of Judean Rabble rousers in Josephus’ Histories of the Jews make a literary allusion to the Bacchanalian Conspiracy in Book 6 of Livy’s History of Rome. The literary allusions in Josephus’ Histories would have alerted the well-read bilingual Roman to the cultic nature of the Judean factions and the danger they posed to the established social order. Josephus’ literary assistants had hinted the cults of the rebellious Judean bands might spread to the lower orders of Roman society. Their literary hints would be apparent only to well-read Roman elites[11].

In comparison to the Rabble-rouser passages, the Testimonium Flavianum has fewer cells that match cells of Livy’s text, and within matching cells, there are fewer correlations with Livy’s text. This is consistent with the Testimonium Flavianum having been composed by someone who tried to imitate Josephus, but was unaware of “Josephus’ ” use of Livy as a literary model.

The Testimonium Flavianum was designed to persuade the naïve reader that Flavius Josephus had made a complimentary statement about Jesus,

The author of the Testimonium Flavianum presented Jesus favorably: Jesus did wonderful things, did not mislead his followers, was the “Christ”, was not associated with any wrong doing, and would never have been executed by Pilate but for enmity of the Jewish Hierarchy. This is the same message found in the Christian gospels. It is an unlikely statement to have come from Josephus, an aristocratic Judean who had been coopted by the Romans.

The style of the Testimonium Flavianum was derived from Livy’s account of the Bacchanalian Conspiracy. The Testimonium Flavianum references a cult which had perverse rites, condoned theft and murder, and menaced the Roman state. It is doubtful that its author was trying to be ironic. It is more likely that the author of the Testimonium Flavianum did not know the basis of the passages he was trying to mimic.

The nature of the Testimonium Flavianum provides some clues about its author. The Testimonium Flavianum was written in Greek by someone unacquainted with Livy’s Latin History of Rome. The Testimonium Flavianum mimicked the style of other passages in War of the Jews, and Antiquities of the Jews, but as the table demonstrates, the imposture was defective.

An educated man from the Eastern half of the Roman Empire would be literate in Greek, but ignorant of Latin. The use of the technical term “Christ” and the agreement of the Testimonium Flavianum with Christian dogma suggest that the forger was a Christian. (The forger may not have been an orthodox Christian.) The forger’s copy was considered authoritative, and was consulted and copied by subsequent generations.

A few additional conclusions can be drawn from the table.

Livy compared the spread of the Bacchanalian cult to a “pestilential evil” and a “contagious disease”[12] This metaphor was later applied to both proselytizers of Judean independence and to the early Christians by the Emperor Claudius, Josephus, the author of Luke/Acts and Tacitus[13].

The Testimonium Flavianum and the Emmaus episode in the Gospel attributed to Luke share many features[14]. If the Testimonium Flavianum is an interpolation ultimately dependent on a Latin source text, the literary antecedents of the Emmaus episode need to be reconsidered.

(Roger Viklund provided editorial and formatting assistance.)

David Blocker, 2014-08


[1] https://rogerviklund.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/rebels-bandits-frauds-charlatans-and-other-wicked-men-in-the-works-of-flavius-josephus/

[2] Josephus blamed Judean power seekers and would be kings (tyrants) for instigating the Jewish Revolt.

“That it was our rebellious spirit brought about our ruin and that it was the tyrants among the Jews who made the Roman power attack us, unwillingly, and caused our holy temple to be burned, Titus Caesar, who destroyed it, can testify.” War of the Jews, Preface, 3.

[3] Antiquities of the Jews 18 3 3.

[4] Titus Livius Patavinus (64 or 59 BC–17 CE), author of Ab Urbe Condita Libri.

[5] Livy’s History of Rome or Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Foundation of the City) originally contained 142 ”books” (libri) of which thirty-five remain. The Preface and Books 1–10, and Books 21–45, still exist in reasonably complete form. Summaries of the remainder of the work have also survived.

[6] Livy, History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita Libri), Book 39. The Bacchanalian Conspiracy is also known as the Dionysian Conspiracy.

[7] Livy’s History of Rome or Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Foundation of the City) originally contained 142 ”books” (libri) of which thirty-five remain. The Preface and Books 1–10, and Books 21–45, still exist in reasonably complete form. Summaries of the remainder of the work have also survived.

[8] “Literary Parallels between Livy’s Description of the Bacchanalian Conspiracy, Flavius Josephus’ Accounts of Judean Demagogues and the Testimonium Flavianum”

[9] Testimonium Flavianum is the name given to Antiquities of the Jews 18 3 3.

The passage has been known to be a forgery since the 17th century, a finding confirmed by recent scholarship.

XXX Epistolae philologicae et historicae de Fl. Josephi Testimonio quod Jesu Christo tribute” (30 Philological and historical letters about the testimony of Flavius Josephus dedicated to Jesus Christ), Nuremberg 1661.

Ken A. Olson, “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (1999), pp. 305–322

Ken Olson, “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum” in Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations, ed. A. Johnson & J. Schott (Harvard University Press, 2013).

Louis H. Feldman, “On the Authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum Attributed to Josephus,” in New Perspectives on Jewish Christian Relations, ed. E. Carlebach & J. J. Schechter (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[10] H. St. J. Thackeray, Josephus: The Man and the Historian, Lecture V, Reprinted by Ktav Publishing House, 1967.

[11] The subtle message these reports deliver to a sophisticated Roman audience is another sign that Josephus the Judean did not write them. Josephus was brought up to be well versed in Judean culture; Western Mediterranean Greco-Roman culture was despised. Josephus wrote that he made an effort to study Greek language and literature; he never mentioned having any knowledge of Latin or Latin literature.

Josephus’ Vita, Chapter 1, Family, education and early manhood of Josephus.

Antiquities of the Jews 20 11 2, “263 My own countrymen freely acknowledge my prowess in Jewish learning, and I have taken the trouble to learn the elements of Greek literature and grammar, though my pronunciation of it is not good, as I am so used to our native tongue. 264 Among us there is no welcome for people who learn the languages of other nations so as to think like them. We regard this as no proper task for a free man but rather as one that should be left to slaves who choose to learn them, whereas we deem as wise the one who fully understands our own laws and can interpret their meaning.”

[12] Livy, History of Rome 39.9;”This pestilential evil penetrated from Etruria to Rome”

[13] Antiquities of the Jews, 18 1 6, Antiquities of the Jews 19 5 2 (A quotation from Claudius’ letter to Alexandria); War of the Jews 2.13.6; Acts 24:5; Tacitus, Annals, 15.44.

[14] Goldberg, G. J. 1995 ”The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus” The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13, pp. 59-77. Article available at www.josephus.org/GoldbergJosephusLuke1995.pdf .

2 kommentarer

  1. David Blocker said,

    13 augusti, 2014 den 05:45

    Another example of the disease metaphor in Josephus:
    Antiquities of the Jews 18 1 1, ”010 I will explain a little about this, since the infection of the younger impressionable elements by these ideas brought our affairs to ruin.”
    See endnotes 12 and 13 above.


  2. David Blocker said,

    25 april, 2015 den 23:39

    From Livy’s History of Rome 2.32:
    ”… By using this comparison, and showing how the internal disaffection amongst the parts of the body resembled the animosity of the plebeians against the patricians, he succeeded in winning over his audience. ”
    From Flavius Josephus’ War of the Jews 4.406:
    ”… As in a human body, when the principal part is feverish, all the members suffer with it, 407 so the rebellion and disorder in the metropolis gave the wicked in the countryside the chance to ravage it too …”



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