Allusions to Christianity and Post Neronian texts in the Satyricon’s Cena Trimalchionis, The Satyricon and Allegations of Christian Cannibalism

Another Guest Post by David Blocker

Allusions to Christianity and Post Neronian texts in the Satyricon’s Cena Trimalchionis, The Satyricon and Allegations of Christian Cannibalism

A Proposal that Titus Petronius Secundus, not Titus Petronius Arbiter, was the author of the Satyricon.

The attached table can be found here:
The Satyricon’s “Cena Trimalchionis”: Literary Allusions to the Gospels and Other Contemporaneous Texts.

Literary parallels between the Satyricon’s Tale of the Ephesian Matron and the New Testament were previously demonstrated[1].

Another chapter in the Satyricon, the Cena Trimalchionis[2], contains numerous allusions to the Old Testament, the canonical gospels, particularly the gospel attributed to John, letters attributed to Paul and James, the works of Flavius Josephus, material found in apocryphal Christian texts, and subjects appearing in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, in letters of Pliny the Younger, in Martial’s Epigrams and in the histories of Suetonius and Tacitus.

The Cena Trimalchionis narrates the events that occurred during a banquet hosted by Trimalchio, a nouveaux-riche freedman.

The accompanying table compares extracts from the Cena Trimalchionis to passages from other texts.

Each column of the table contains an extended excerpt from the texts under consideration. The texts are arranged so that analogous passages will be side by side in parallel rows.

The first or left hand column of each row lists shared topics in the passages within the other cells of the row.  Parallel phrases in each row are either highlighted or emphasized with a distinctive font.

The cells in the second column contain the text of the Satyricon’s Cena Trimalchionis, the cells of the third column contain parallels extracted from the New Testament, and the cells in the fourth or right hand column contain texts extracted from other documents.

Where necessary, endnotes provide the complete passage, its context, source, and additional comments.

A cursory inspection of the Table suggests that the Cena Trimalchionis’ most significant New Testament allusions are to the Gospel of John.  This also seems to be the case for the New Testament allusions found in the Tale of the Ephesian Matron[3].

The relationship of the Satyricon to the Gospel of John requires further investigation since the current scholarly consensus assumes that the Satyricon was written prior to the Gospel of John.

The author of the Satyricon also alludes to narratives that have their only surviving parallels in the Toledoth Jesu[4].  This suggests that the antiquity of the Toledoth Jesu and/or its sources is much greater than commonly acknowledged.

The last three rows of the Table are from a fragmentary, incompletely preserved, portion of the Satyricon.  In this section of the text, Eumolpus left a will requiring that his beneficiaries eat his corpse if they wish to inherit his estate[5].

This fragment of the text contains a reference to Josephus’ War of the Jews and a possible allusion to the Gospel of John.  This incomplete portion of the Satyricon might have been part of an episode parodying the symbolic cannibalism of the Christian Eucharist.

As evidenced by the references to gossip, events and people that also appears in the writings of the two Plinys, Martial, Suetonius and Tacitus, the author of the Satyricon seems to have been a Roman addressing other members of an elite circle of upper class Romans.

The Satyricon makes oblique references to Christianity’s rites and literature.  Allusions to Christianity in the Satyricon’s Tale of the Ephesian Matron1 were used to mock and parody Christian beliefs and rituals.  The use of allusions to Christianity in the Satyricon’s Cena Trimalchionis, however, seems like a virtuoso display where the author is showing off his store of information about Christianity.  The author of the Satyricon cites not only the texts adopted by orthodox Christianity, but texts written by rivals, critics and detractors of what would become orthodox Christianity.  The allusions to Christianity in the Cena Trimalchionis are presented as a series of individual display pieces rather than as connected elements of a narrative.  Only when the story turns to Eumolpus’ will, do the allusions to symbolic Christian and alleged Judean cannibalism contribute to a greater narrative framework about bilking legacy hunters.

I leave further analysis and interpretation of the Table to the reader.  Hopefully, the Table will inspire further scholarship leading to the discovery of additional relationships between the Satyricon and contemporary texts and to the elucidation of the significance of these relationships.

The Satyricon alludes to events and passages in texts that were written after the reign of Nero[6].

The authorship of the Satyricon is usually assigned to Titus Petronius Arbiter[7], one of Emperor Nero’s courtiers.  The Satyricon’s post 66 CE allusions make it impossible for Titus Petronius Arbiter to have been its author.  Petronius Arbiter committed suicide circa 66 CE, before many of the texts referred to by the Satyricon were written.

Assuming that the manuscript attributions of authorship to “Titus Petronius” are correct, a better candidate for authorship of the Satyricon is Titus Petronius Secundus[8] (40–97 CE).

Titus Petronius Secundus was governor of the province of Egypt from c. 92 to c. 93 CE.  This posting would have exposed him to the Jewish community of Alexandria, refugees from the first Jewish Revolt, and members of the Christian sect.  From 94 to 96 CE, he was a prefect of Emperor Domitian’s Praetorian Guard.  As a member of the Imperial household, Petronius Secundus would have had the opportunity to read Martial’s verses and meet Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, and be familiar with events, people and places they wrote about.

Titus Petronius Secundus left epigraphic evidence that he was bilingual in Latin and Greek, as was the author of the Satyricon[9], and had pretentions of being a poet.  Samples of poetry are scattered throughout the Satyricon.

When Titus Petronius Secundus was governor of Egypt, he visited the statue of Memnon and had a Latin statement commemorating his visit and a Greek verse that he had composed, inscribed on the statue’s leg[10].

I propose based on the foregoing statements, that first the Satyricon was written after the reign of Nero, and second, that Titus Petronius Secundus is a better (though not the only) candidate than Titus Petronius Arbiter for the authorship of the Satyricon[11].

The Satyricon also refers to anti-Christian allegations recorded in the Sefer Toledoth Jesu[12], in Celsus’ The True Word (Ἀληθὴς λόγος/Alēthēs logos) and in the refutations written by Christian apologists of the 2nd through 4th centuries.  Since these texts were composed after the death of Petronius Secundus, the allegations must already have been in circulation during his lifetime—if he is the author of the Satyricon.

The Satyricon alludes to events, persons and places mentioned in Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus’ The Twelve Caesars[13] which was written during the reign of Hadrian, and to works of Tacitus and Pliny the Younger which were all distributed after the death of Titus Petronius Secundus.  The texts were published after the death of Petronius Secundus, but referred to events that occurred during the lifetime of Petronius Secundus.  Petronius Secundus and Suetonius had overlapping life times, and they both lived in Rome where they would have been privy to the same anecdotes and the same libraries.

The Satyricon, therefore, could not have been written by Titus Petronius Arbiter, since it contains references to material written after his death.  Titus Petronius Secundus is a better candidate to be the Petronius who allegedly authored the Satyricon.

An alternate hypothesis about the authorship of the Satyricon was proposed by Stephan Ratti.  He proposed that it was written during the second decade of the 2nd century CE by a freedman in Pliny the Younger’s household who adopted the pseudonym “Petronius”11.

I place more credence on the manuscript attributions of authorship to Titus Petronius, while Stephan Ratti bases his hypothesis on the high frequency of topics that are shared by the Satyricon and Pliny’s letters.

If the Satyricon was indeed written during the last decade of the first century CE by Titus Petronius Secundus, the parody of Christian traditions found in the Tale of the Ephesian Matron, and the allusions to Christianity found in the Cena Trimalchionis and in the fragmentary cannibal passages of the Satyricon are the earliest surviving non-Christian literary references to Christianity that are not tainted with the suspicion of being Christian forgery[14].  Allusions to the Gospel attributed to John in a text dated to the last decade of the 1st century CE, would require rethinking not only the dating of the Gospel attributed to John, but the Synoptic problem as well.

David Blocker, 2016.12.28.


[1] or*/

See also endnote 3

[2]  The Cena Trimalchionis is an incident in the Satyricon, a long Latin novel of which only fragments survive.  In this episode the narrator, Encolpius, and his companions are invited to a dinner given by Trimalchio, a nouveux riche freedman.



[4] Incidents found in both the Toledoth Jesu and the Satyricon include playing “catch the ball by a pool of water”, “barking entryway guardians”, “an event seen by two witnesses”, and “a betrayal preceded by an act of sodomy”.

Most mainstream scholars date the Toledoth Jesu to the 6th century or later, though a few have placed it as early as the 2nd or 3rd century., recovered 2016/11/30.

[5] “All those who come into money under my will, except my own children, will get what I have left them on one condition, that they cut my body in pieces and eat it up in sight of the crowd.” Satyricon 141.

[6] Nero, died: June 9, 68 AD.

Please see the accompanying Table for specific examples of texts written after 66 CE.

These include references to the New Testament, and passages from the works of Martial, Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus, and the two Plinys (the Elder and Younger).

[7] (recovered 10/10/2016).


[9] See J. R. Morgan, “Petronius and Greek Literature”, in Prag, Jonathan and Ian Repath (eds). Petronius: A Handbook (Blackwell Publishing, 2009, Chapter 2).

[10] Titus Petronius Secundus’ inscription on the statue of Memnon has survived until modern times.  In antiquity the statue was famous for making a sound when warmed by the rising sun.

A French translation of the Greek and Latin inscription is given below:

« Quand l’empereur Domitien César Auguste Germanicus exerçait son seizième consulat, Titus Petronius Secundus, préfet d’Egypte, entendit Memnon, à la première heure, la veille des ides de mars, et l’honora des vers grecs écrits ci-dessous : « Tu as émis un son, Memnon, car une partie de toi-même est assise en ce lieu, quand le fils de Latone te frappait de ses rayons brûlants. » Par les soins de Titus Attius Musa, préfet de la deuxième cohorte des Thébains.*» (Date : le 14 mars 92 p.C.)

Source : ”Les inscriptions grecques et latines du colosse de Memnon” par André et Etienne Bernard – I.F.A.O. – 1960.

* “When the Emperor Domitian Caesar Augustus Germanicus exercised his sixteenth consulship, Titus Petronius Secundus, prefect of Egypt, heard Memnon, at the first hour, on the eve of the ides of March, and honored him with the Greek verses written below: ‘You made a sound, Memnon, because a part of you is sitting here, when Latona’s son struck you with his burning rays.’ “Under the supervision of Titus Attius Musa, prefect of the second cohort of Thebans.” (Latona/Leto: A Greek goddess, the mother, by Zeus, of Apollo (the god of the sun) and Artemis.)

[11] Stephane Ratti proposed that the Satyricon was written late in the reign of Trajan, after 107–111 CE, by a freedman of Pliny the Younger, most likely Pliny’s reader Encolpius.  Ratti suggests that Encolpius used “Titus Petronius” as his pseudonym.

Stéphane Ratti, “Relire le Satyricon. Pline le Jeune et les chrétiens, cibles du roman secret d’un affranchi cultivé”, Anabases, v. 22, 2015, p. 99–145.

Stéphane Ratti and I agree that Petronius Arbiter was not the author of the Satyricon.  I propose that the Satyricon was written by Titus Petronius Secundus (c. 40–97) during the reign of Domitian.  Titus Petronius Secundus would have to have known Pliny the Younger and have completed the Satyricon before he (Petronius Secundus) was murdered in 97 CE.

M. Ratti places the Satyricon at a later date, during the reign of Trajan, and proposes that its author was Encolpius, Pliny the Younger’s reader (literary secretary). Encolpius appears to have died while in Pliny’s service (Letters 8.1 and 8.19, Letters of Pliny the Younger) at an unknown, indeterminate date.

[12] The dating of the Sefer Toldoth Jesu, a deprecatory biography of Jesus, is a contentious subject.  While there is no scholarly consensus, no established scholar has dated it earlier than the second century.  See (recovered 10/10/2016) for a group sourced discussion of the composition and dating of the Toldoth Jesu.

[13] Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69–after 122 CE) (recovered 10/10/2016)

[14] Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, which contains the Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3, was written circa 93/94 CE (  The Testimonium Flavianum is a laudatory statement about Jesus.

There is controversy about whether or not the Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery (See Feldman, Louis H., Josephus and Modern Scholarship, Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter, 1984, for arguments concerning the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum).

Pliny the Younger’s correspondence with Trajan (Pliny, Letters 10.96–97) (c. 112 CE) concerns whether or not Christians should be treated as criminals.  Pliny the Younger’s letter imply that he had heard rumors of misdeeds occurring at Christian feasts.  According to my (Blocker’s) hypothesis Pliny’s letters to Trajan were written over a decade after the Satyricon had been written.

According to S. Ratti’s hypothesis (See endnote 11 ) the Satyricon and Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan were approximately concurrent.

A recent essay has questioned the authenticity of Pliny’s Letter to Trajan (Enrico Tuccinardi, “An Application of a Profile-Based Method for Authorship Verification: Investigating the Authenticity of Pliny the Younger’s Letter to Trajan Concerning the Christians,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, published online: 14 February 2016.

The Relationship Between the Satyricon’s “Tale of the Ephesian Widow” and Texts Associated with Early Christianity.

A Guest Post by David Blocker


The Relationship Between the Satyricon’s “Tale of the Ephesian Widow” and Texts Associated with Early Christianity.

Also a Few Thoughts Concerning the Authorship of the Satyricon

The attached table can be found here:

Table 1 – Correlations between Petronius’ Tale of the Widow of Ephesus, The Canonical and Non Canonical Gospels, and Other Stories

The Satyricon ([1]) is an incompletely preserved Latin picaresque novel about the misadventures of its dissipated and unscrupulous narrator, Encolpius, and the dissolute characters he encountered during his travels.  The story takes place in southern Italia, during the mid to late 1st century CE.

The date of composition of the Satyricon is unknown.  The earliest known manuscripts of the Satyricon date to the 9th century.  The Satyricon was rediscovered, copied and printed during the Renaissance.  The manuscript tradition attributes the work to an otherwise unidentified ”Titus Petronius”.

One of the most famous narrative interludes in the Satyricon is the ”Tale of the Ephesian Widow”.  The third rate poet Eumpolis told the tale to entertain the passengers and crew of a ship sailing around the southern end of the Italian peninsula.  The ”Tale of the Ephesian Matron” is a story within a story.

Eumpolis presented the story as a recollection of an actual event.

The story was about a recently widowed woman who was celebrated for her great virtue.  Accompanied by a servant, she sequestered herself in her husband’s tomb and refused to take nourishment or leave the corpse’s side.  The mourning widow was noticed by a nearby soldier, who was guarding the corpses of several crucified thieves.  The soldier seduced the grieving widow.  While the soldier was dallying with the widow, one of the crucified corpses was stolen and given proper burial.  The soldier decided to kill himself rather than suffer punishment for his dereliction of duty.  The widow, not wanting to lose her new found lover, offered to substitute her husband’s corpse for the stolen body.  The next day, the townspeople wondered how the dead husband managed to climb up on the cross in place of the dead thief.

Eumpolis’ ”Tale of the Ephesian Matron” was an elaboration of Plautus’ well known story of the ”Widow and the Soldier” ([2]), which in turn may have been based on an earlier Greek fable ([3]).  An alert and erudite Roman reader would have recognized that Eumpolis was a plagiarizer.  Eumpolis took a well-known moralizing fable, repackaged it as a sardonic shaggy dog story ([4]), and then passed it off as his recollection of an actual event.  The author of ”The Satyricon” portrayed Eumpolis as an unreliable narrator, whose audience accepted the story as a true and accurate account of actual events because they lacked the refinement to recognize the story’s true origin.

What is somewhat less obvious is that ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” is both a parody of the Christian biography of Jesus and a critique that questions the veracity of the Christian foundation myth by offering mundane alternative explanations for the supernatural events of the Christian myths.

The accompanying five column table ”Table 1 – Correlations between Petronius’ Tale of the Widow of Ephesus, The Canonical and Non Canonical Gospels, and Other Stories” compares ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” to its source ”The Widow and the Soldier”, and to canonical and non-canonical stories about Jesus.

The stories are arranged in columns.  The cells in the first column on the left contain the commentary on the content of each row.  Each row of the table contains passages from the texts that display literary parallels.  The endnotes below the table contain additional explanations about the text in each cell.

Inspection of the Table shows that the Satyricon alludes to the New Testament accounts about the anointing of Jesus, the Last Supper, the crucifixion of Jesus and the disappearance of his corpse.  The Gospel of John seems to be the Gospel with the most correlations with the Satyricon, followed by the Gospel of Luke.

The ”Tale of the Ephesian Widow” also has parallels with Flavius Josephus’ story about Decius Mundus’ seduction of Paulina ([5]), and the Toledoth Yeschu‘s account of Miriam’s rape by ben Pandera ([6]).  Flavius Josephus’ story of Paulina and Mundus occurs in close proximity to the Testimonium Flavianum, the controversial passage about Jesus in the 18th book of Flavius Josephus’ ”Antiquities of the Jews” ([7]).  Some might consider the story about Decius Mundus’ attempt to impregnate Paulina by pretending to be a god, to be a parody of Luke’s Annunciation, the story of how Mary was impregnated by a messenger (Greek: angel) who claimed to be god’s representative.  The Toledoth Yeshu is a Jewish biography of Jesus that attempts to demythologize the stories in the canonical gospels ([8]).

The correlations between ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” are not mere coincidences.

First, there are too many of them and the order of their appearance, starting with a description of the woman’s character, that parallels the description of Mary’s (Miriam’s) character at the beginning of the Protevangelion of James and the Toledoth Yeshu, and culminating in the uplifting of a corpse, tracks the stories about Jesus too closely to be accidental.

Second, ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” used Plautus’ earlier story about ”The Widow and the Soldier” as its model.  Many passages in ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow are paraphrases of passages from Plautus’ story occurring in the same sequence as they do in Plautus.  However, The Tale of the Ephesian Widow also contains many narrative embellishments that are not in Plautus.  In the Table these appear in a row in which there is text in the cell in ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” column, but an empty cell in ”The Widow and the Solider” column.

Almost all of these embellishments have a correlate in a narrative about the life of Jesus.  Wherever the author of ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” added to his exemplar, he did so in order to make an allusion to a particular narrative element in a story about Jesus.  This distinctive pattern of additions to Plautus’ story shows that the ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow’s” references to Jesus were deliberate.

Finally, for whatever it is worth, my observation that the Satyricon contains references to Christianity is not idiosyncratic.  A review of the academic literature shows that this observation has been made independently at several different times in the past ([9]).

The author of the Satyricon apparently had access to several different texts or traditions about Jesus.  ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” alludes to episodes found in the canonical gospels, the apocryphal gospels, Jewish texts including the Torah and the Toldoth Yeshu, and possibly the works of Flavius Josephus.  How he was able to access these texts or traditions, and the actual form they were in when he found them is the subject for future research.  What is apparent is that he used laudatory, mythopoeic, and disparaging sources which he combined to create a multilayered story with parodic allusions to the hagiographic biography of Jesus.

The composition of ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” is multilayered.  On the surface it is a reminiscence told by a character in a picaresque novel.  One the next level it is a story stolen from an author who translated and versified Greek fables (2).  Finally it is a story that either parodies or de-mythologizes the events in the last chapters of the canonical Christian gospels, from the anointing of Jesus, through the last supper, crucifixion and resurrection.  ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” also calls the steadfastness of the Virgin Mary into account by insinuating that even the most virtuous appearing women can be easily seduced by offering them wine and good food.  By alluding to Flavius Josephus’ account of Paulina and Mundus, ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” implied that Mary had not been miraculously impregnated by an angel but rather had been seduced by a man who pretended to be a messenger from god.  Adding yet another layer of complexity, Josephus’ account of Paulina and Mundus strongly resembles the rabbinical accounts of Miriam’s rape at the hands of a soldier named ben Pandera ([10]).

To the casual or unsophisticated reader ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” is a salacious story about the pliability and corruptibility of women and how past virtuous behavior is not a reliable indicator of a woman’s future behavior.  A more sophisticated reader will see that the story is a parodic commentary on the final days of Jesus that correlates the mythologized sequence of events that led up to his resurrection, with a sordid tale replete with implied necrophilia, eating disorders, obsessive behaviors, seduction and purchase of sexual favors with food, possible group sex, dereliction of duty, body snatching and corpse abuse.

Finally ”The Tale of the Ephesian Widow” makes a literary allusion that suggests rather than being a miraculous child of god, Jesus was the illegitimate child of rape.

In short the Satyricon‘s author, hid a devastating attack on the validity of the Christian foundations legend inside a mildly off color morality tale.

In light of the above the dating of the Satyricon needs to be reconsidered.

It is the general scholarly consensus that the canonical gospels were not written until after the end of the First Jewish Revolt.  Flavius Josephus completed Antiquities of the Jews during the last decade of the 1st century CE (7).

The text of the Satyricon refers to an actor who was active during the reign of Caligula ([11]) and to a musician who received an award from Nero ([12]).

Therefore, the Satyricon was written at a time when popular entertainers from Nero’s era were still remembered, and after the Christian Gospels become accessible to a Roman author.

This places the authorship of the Satyricon after Nero’s reign ([13]), most likely during the period of the Flavian dynasty ([14]), when there would still have been first hand memories of performers from the time of Nero.  Petronius Arbiter ([15]), who is traditionally assigned authorship of the Satyricon, died in 66CE.  It is therefore highly unlikely that Petronius Arbiter was the author of the Satyricon.

The author of this essay is not alone in proposing that the Satyricon was written after the reign of Nero.  Similar proposals have been made in the French literature ([16]).

In a subsequent essay, I will show that the Satyricon contains additional references to the Christianity, as well as allusions to more texts written during the last decade of the 1st century CE.  In that essay, I will offer a hypothesis about the dating and authorship of the Satyricon and how this bears upon the Synoptic Problem.


David Blocker, 2014/04/23

(I wish to thank Roger Viklund for his skillful editing, and for bringing Xenophon’s Ephesian Tale to my attention.)


[1] Many translations and editions of the Satyricon are available on line and in well stocked book stores.  Many essays about the text, the complex manuscript history of the Satyricon, and the extensive controversies surrounding the work are available at university libraries and on the many web pages devoted to the Satyricon.  The literature on the Satyricon is voluminous, contentious and dates back hundreds of years.  Caveat Lector.

[2] The Widow and the Soldier / The Fables of Phædrus, Literally translated into English prose. Translator: H. T. Riley, C. Smart, 1887, Fable XIV – The Widow and the Soldier, p 443. Phaedrus (c. 15 BC – c. AD 50) was a Roman fabulist.  Phaedrus is known for rewriting Greek fables into Latin verse.

[3] The literary trope of lovers meeting in a tomb has a long history.  Plautus’ ”Widow and the Soldier”, the Satyricon‘s ”Tale of the Ephesian Matron”, the 2nd century CE ”Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes” by Xenophon of Ephesus, ”The Apocryphal Acts of John the Apostle” traditionally ascribed to Leucius Charinus, and of course William Shakespeare’s ”Romeo and Juliet” all contain variations of the ”lovers in a tomb” theme.  John 20: 11-18, in which Mary encountered the post mortem Jesus outside his tomb, probably should be included in this story genre.

[4] A shaggy dog story is an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or pointless punchline.  In the case of the ”Ephesian Widow”, the focus of the narrative is suddenly shifted from the seduction of the virtuous widow to the town’s people’s bewilderment at the undignified reappearance of her late husband’s corpse.

[5] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.4 (18.066 et seq.)

[6] The Toledoth Yeshu is a biography of Jesus that was circulated among Jewish communities.  Book that contain some historical information about and transcripts of various manuscript versions of the Toledoth Yeshu are listed below.

Toledot Yeshu: The Life Story of Jesus, 2 vols., Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

J.P. Osier, L’Evangile de Ghettoe; Berg International; Paris, 1984.

Hugh Schonfeild, According to the Hebrews: A New Translation of the Jewish Life of Jesus (the Toldoth Jeshu), with an Inquiry Into the Nature of Its Sources and Special Relationship to the Lost Gospel According to the Hebrews, Duckworth, London, 1937. (This book contains a censored version of the Toledoth Yeshu, the account of Miriam’s rape was not included in the translated text of the Toledoth Yeshu.  The book does contain a useful comparison of the Toledoth Yeshu to other texts.)

Samuel Krauss; Das Leben Yeshu nach Judischen Quellen; S.Calvary, Berlin, 1903.

[7] Antiquities of the Jews (Greek: Ἰουδαϊκὴ ἀρχαιολογία, Ioudaikē archaiologia; Latin: Antiquitates Judaicae), is a 20-volume historiographical work composed by the Judean historian Flavius Josephus in the 13th year of the reign of the Roman emperor Flavius Domitian, c. AD 93 or 94.

From: , retrieved 2016/04/16.

[8] The earliest dates of the Toledoth Yeschu which have some scholarly backing lie between the 3rd to 5th century CE.  However, the accompanying Table shows that narrative units of the Toledoth Yeschu have parallels with the Satyricon‘s ”Tale of the Ephesian Widow”.  The Satyricon is generally considered to date to the mid to late 1st century CE.

[9] Cabaniss, Allan; ”A Footnote to the Petronian Question”, CPh 49, 1954; pp. 98-102.

”The Satyricon and the Christian Oral Tradition,” Greek, Roman & Byzantine Studies, Vol. 3, 1960, pp. 36-9.

“The Matron of Ephesus Again: An Analysis,” Univ. of Mississippi Studies in English 3; (1962) 75-77. [Also in Liturgy and Literature: Selected Essays (Alabama, 1970).]

The Satyricon and the NT, A Satire. Liturgy and Literature, Selected Essays, University of Alabama Press, 1970, p. 72-96.

Harris, William (January 20, 1926 – February 22, 2009), Professor of Classics at Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT.

”There is no space to go into this here, but it seems clear that someone who misunderstood Christianity totally, heard of Christ’s entombment and crucifixion, and turned it into an odd form of comedy. This needs further study and discussion….”

Posted at

”We should look at this from the perspective of historical evidence. If the Petronius storyline may be considered even as indirect evidence that there was an awareness, howsoever vague and transposed, of Christ’s final state, it does establish the fact that the crucifixion of Christ was becoming known in secular circles throughout the West. And it further helps document a date for Petronius (who has never been properly dated) as near the end of the first century A.D.  I find this matter so strange and unparalleled by anything else we have from the early years of the first millennium, that I hesitate to propose the matter in documentable academic terms, and offer this view primarily as a suggestion for consideration. On the other hand the segments of the argument as I have outlined them seem to fit together ineluctably. It is essentially the interpretation of their meaning in a social and historical sense which gives me pause.”

Posted at  Retrieved 2016/4/21.

Ramelli, Ilaria; The Ancient Novels and the New Testament: Possible Contacts; Ancient Narrative, Volume 5, Groningen; 2007; pp 41-68.

[10] The Greek Philosopher Celsus, who wrote during the 2nd century CE was also aware of the non-miraculous, somewhat sordid Jewish account of Jesus’ conception and birth.

”Let us return, however, to the words put into the mouth of the Jew, where ‘the mother of Jesus’ is described as having been ‘turned out by the carpenter who was betrothed to her, as she had been convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Panthera’.” In Contra Celsum by Origen, Henry Chadwick, translator; Cambridge University Press: 1980;  p. 32.

[11] Appeles, a tragic actor during the reign of Caligula (d.41 C.E.).  Petronius, The Satyricon and Seneca, The Apocolocyntosis; J. P. Sullivan, Translator; Penguin Books; 1965; footnote 50, p. 191.

[12] Menecrates, a lyre player honored by Nero (Suetonius, Nero, c. 30).  Petronius, The Satyricon and Seneca, The Apocolocyntosis; J. P. Sullivan, Translator; Penguin Books; 1965; footnote 70, p. 192.

[13] Nero was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68CE.

[14] The Flavian dynasty – 69CE to 96CE, encompassed the reigns of Vespasian (69–79), and his two sons Titus (79–81) and Domitian (81–96).


[16] ”Les interrogations subsistent quant à la période de rédaction du Satyricon. Il existe de nombreux parallèles entre le texte de Pétrone et des auteurs tels Martial, Tacite et Pline le Jeune, qui rédigent tous leurs œuvres sous les Flaviens ou au début de la dynastie des Antonins. Or Martial cite généralement ses modèles et ne mentionne à aucune reprise Pétrone et le Satyricon. Il paraît aussi difficile de croire que des écrivains comme Tacite ou Pline aient copié des passages d’un récit aussi salace. Il est par conséquent plus que probable que c’est le Satyricon qui parodie ces divers auteurs et non l’inverse. En revanche, en 120, c’est Juvenal qui pastiche à son tour le Satyricon (au livre 3 de ses Satires), ce qu’il ne fait pas dans les deux premiers livres parus en 116. Cela donne comme période de rédaction probable les années allant de 116 à 120.  Pour Nicole Fick cependant, le roman a été écrit entre la fin du règne de Néron (en 68) et le début du règne de Domitien (vers 90) … ”  Extracted from, 2016-02-12.

(”There are many parallels between the text of Petronius and authors like Martial, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, who wrote all their works under the Flavian or early Antonine dynasties.  However, Martial generally quoted his sources and yet did not mention using Petronius and the Satyricon. It also seems difficult to believe that writers like Tacitus and Pliny had copied passages from this salacious story.  It is therefore likely that it is the Satyricon that parodies the various authors and not the reverse. However, in 120, it was Juvenal, who in his turn made a pastiche of the Satyricon (in Book 3 of his ”Satires”), yet he did not do in his first two books published in 116. This gives probable drafting (of the Satyricon) during the period from 116 to 120.  According to Nicole Fick however, the novel was written between the end of the reign of Nero (in 68) and the beginning of the reign of Domitian (to 90) … ”  Machine assisted translation from French to English.)

It is the opinion of the author of this essay that the Satyricon was written towards the end of Domitian’s reign (c. 95-96 CE).  This will be discussed in greater detail in a future essay.

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



[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 .

Rebels, Bandits, Frauds, Charlatans and Other Wicked Men in the works of Flavius Josephus

In this guest post, David Blocker presents a table (attached here) in which he compares all the descriptions of the so-called “Wicked Men” found in Josephus’ works, including also the description of Jesus known as the Testimonium Flavianum. Blocker’s idea (borrowed from Thackeray) that Josephus had two Greek speaking assistants who were responsible for quite a lot of the stuff present in his historical works is interesting, as is his conclusion that the Testimonium Flavianum deviates from the other descriptions of “wicked men” found in Josephus and accordingly is a later addition to the Antiquities of the Jews. Over to Blocker …


Rebels, Bandits, Frauds, Charlatans and Other Wicked Men in the works of Flavius Josephus

A Repetitive Literary Formula That Confirms the Testimonium Flavianum is an Interpolation

 A Guest Post by David Blocker 

Scattered throughout the historical and autobiographical works attributed to Flavius Josephus[1], are short narrations describing the rise and fall of the rebels, bandits (Greek: lestai), charlatans, frauds and impostors (Greek: gontes) who plagued 1st century Judea. Flavius Josephus believed these men were responsible for the outbreak of the Jewish revolt that led to the subjugation and destruction of his beloved Jerusalem[2].

These narrations can be categorized into two distinct groups

One group occurs early in Jewish War and the corresponding section of Antiquities of the Jews. These are brief summaries of the careers of assorted insurgents who were usually reported to possess great physical strength and a great desire for attaining “kingship” or “royal prerogative”[3]. Other than these two features, these descriptions do not adhere to a standardized literary format.

The second group of descriptions of Rebels, Bandits, Frauds, Charlatans and Other Wicked Men were written using a standardized literary formula. The Wicked Man was introduced and his career was recounted according to a standard pattern: the troublemaker was named or described, followed by a brief account of how he made extravagant claims or promises in order to attract disciples, whom he then led into peril. When the troublemaker and his dupes came to the attention of the Judean and Roman authorities, they were summarily dealt with and usually came to a violent end. This repeated narrative formula is used in the Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews, and in Josephus’ Vita.

Book 18 of Antiquities of the Jews contains passages that briefly describe the activities of Jesus[4] and John the Baptist[5]. The paragraph about Jesus in Antiquities of the Jews is called the Testimonium Flavianum. These passages, at least on first glance appear, to have been written using the literary formula that was used to describe the activities of Josephus’ Wicked Men.

I assembled a table using all the examples of the Wicked Men literary formula in the works ascribed to Flavius Josephus. Each column of the table contains a passage from the works of Flavius Josephus describing the activities of a troublemaker. The passages have been broken down into smaller blocks of text which deal with particular topics or contain words which are shared by other Wicked Men narratives. These blocks of text can be arranged into parallel rows. The blocks of text within a row share common features which are listed in the cells of the first column of the table. The table demonstrates that the narratives describing Josephus’ Wicked Men, the Testimonium Flavianum, and the description of John the Baptist display a remarkable amount of parallelism. They have a common narrative sequence and within the narrative there are many shared parallel elements, such as vocabulary or subtopics.

The “Wicked Men” narratives in Antiquities of the Jews tend to be longer and more prolix than the narratives in War of the Jews; cells containing text from Antiquities of the Jews often contain more words, than the corresponding cells from Jewish War. The narratives in Josephus’ Vita seem less detailed and have a less complex structure than the narratives in the other two books. This is consistent with H. St. J. Thackeray’s contention that portions of Josephus’ works were actually written by a pair of Greek speaking assistants. A “superb Greek stylist” contributed to Jewish War, while a longwinded “Thucydian Hack” wrote large portions of the last three or four chapters of Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus Vita, according to Thackeray, was written by Josephus himself with minimal outside assistance, and the shorter simpler format of its narratives is consistent with having been written by an Aramaic speaker who learned Greek as a second language[6].

The “Wicked Men” narrative formulation was devised by the “Greek stylist”, Josephus’ first assistant. Presumably he developed and used the formula throughout the second half of Jewish War, in order to simplify his task of having to repeatedly summarize the activities of each of the many Judean troublemakers who arose during the time period leading up to the Jewish revolt. Rather than compose an original and independent passage for each of the troublemakers the “Greek stylist” simply changed a few details of his narrative formula in order to create another seemingly independent “Wicked Man” narrative.

Much of the latter half of Antiquities of the Jews presented material that had already appeared in Jewish War. The “Thucydian Hack” expanded upon the narrative formula devised by his predecessor, but retained its narrative outline when he made his contributions to the final chapters of Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus also attempted to imitate the writing techniques of his Greek assistants when he wrote the passages describing various troublemakers in his Vita.

The structure of the Testimonium Flavianum[4] and the John the Baptist episode[5] bear a superficial resemblance to the structure of the Wicked Man narratives. However, unlike the Wicked Man narratives, neither the Testimonium Flavianum nor the John the Baptist episode displays any hostility toward their subject. The Testimonium Flavianum column contains empty cells, that is, it lacks narrative elements that are contained in most of the other Wicked Men narratives. The phrase “did not cease” (Greek:οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο) in the Testimonium Flavianum is the opposite of the “Wicked Men’s” disciples escaping /fleeing/or scattering when confronted by the authorities[7]. The Testimonium Flavianum also contains a pair of cells whose contents have no match with the other Wicked Men narrations.

The Testimonium Flavianum contains some but not all of the features of the “Wicked Man” narrative format that was employed throughout Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. Unlike the other exemplars of this narrative format, the Testimonium Flavianum speaks favorably of its subject. These two findings suggest that the Testimonium Flavianum was not written by the original author(s) of Antiquities of the Jews, but rather by a later interpolator who had not completely mastered the style of Josephus’ literary deputies.

Other commentators have noted that the Testimonium Flavianum interrupts the narrative flow of Book 18, contains non Josephian vocabulary, and that Josephus, having already declared Vespasian the messiah, would not have turned about and jeopardized his position within the Flavian household by stating that Jesus was the Christ [8]. These are additional indicators that the Testimonium Flavianum is an interpolation which was not part of the original document produced by Josephus and his Flavian ghost writers.

The John the Baptist column in the Table has more rows that correlate with other Wicked Man rows than does the Testimonium Flavianum. However, the cells of the John the Baptist column appear to have fewer parallel topic matches (indicated by colored text in each row of the Table) with the other text columns. As mentioned above, Josephus or rather his assistant, the Thucydian Hack, appears to have written favorably about John the Baptist, while the subjects of stylistically similar passages were disparaged. This is consistent with the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities of the Jews having been edited or censored. The text maintains its narrative structure, but displays fewer correlations at the cellular level with its cognate passages in Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. These anomalies suggest that Josephus’ original text about John the Baptist was altered, its narrative sequence was preserved, but its implication was changed. The passage about John the Baptist was probably transformed from a report about a politically active rabble-rouser to the present story about an irksome but otherwise harmless religious reformer[9].

In conclusion, the attached table shows the extensive parallelism between the passages in the works of Flavius Josephus that describe an assortment of revolutionaries, terrorists, charlatans and other wicked men. The table confirms the multiple authorship of the works attributed to Flavius Josephus. The Testimonium Flavianum is only a partial match to the passages describing wicked men which suggests that it is an interpolation that was not written at the same time as the other passages were. The passage about John the Baptist contains evidence that it underwent later editing or censorship. More information about the composition and transmission of Josephus manuscripts could be obtained using the same tabular comparison technique to study the original Greek texts of Josephus. This table could also be used as the basis for applying advanced analytical methods from cladistics and statistics in order to answer questions about composition and authorship of the works of Flavius Josephus.

David Blocker 2014 07

[1] Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews and Life of Flavius Josephus

[2] Jewish War, Preface 4.11:

“…and that they were the tyrants among the Jews who brought the Roman power upon us, who unwillingly attacked us, and occasioned the burning of our holy temple…”

Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.5:

After an account describing the activities of impious robbers, Josephus wrote:

“And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred of these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery, as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.”

[3] Josephus’ descriptions of strong troublemakers who had royal pretentions:

From Jewish War:

2 4 1 Judas, the son of that arch-brigand Hezekias

2 4 2 Simon, one of the royal servants

2 4 3 A shepherd called Athrongeus

2 8 1 A Galilean named Judas, (See Judas in Antiquities 18.1.1)

2 13 2 The arch-brigand Eleazar and many of his group

From Antiquities of the Jews:

17 10 4. “for many rose up to go to war”

17 10 5. A fellow called Judas, son of the Ezekias who had been leader of the brigands

17 10 6. A slave of king Herod called Simon

17 10 7 Athrongeus

17 10 8 (285) Judea was full of robberies, and as the various rebel groups chose anyone they found to head them, he immediately became king, to the public ruin. They harmed only a few of the Romans, and in small ways, but committing terrible murders among their own people.

18 1 1 JUDAS, A GAULONITE from a city called Gamala, with the support of the Pharisee Sadduc, … I will explain a little about this, since the infection of the younger impressionable elements by these ideas brought our affairs to ruin.

18 1 6 Judas the Galilean.

Josephus’ description of murderous terrorists:

From Jewish War:

2 13 3 “Another sort of brigands called Sicarii grew up in Jerusalem, who killed people in broad daylight even in the city itself. 255 This was mainly during the festivals, when they mingled among the people with daggers concealed under their clothing to stab their enemies, and when the victim fell, joined in the protest against it, to make them seem trustworthy, so they could not be found out. 256 The first to be killed by them was Jonathan the high priest, after whom many were killed daily, resulting in a terror that was worse than the event itself, and as everyone faced the prospect of death at any moment, the same as in wartime. 257 People had to be on guard and keep their distance, no longer daring to trust even friends who were approaching them, but despite all precautions and security, they were still killed, so quickly and cunningly did the conspirators come at them.”

From Antiquities of the Jews: 17 10 8

[4] Antiquities of the Jews 18 3 3

[5] Antiquities of the Jews 18 5 2 (114 et seq.)

[6] H. St. J. Thackeray, Josephus, Man and Historian; Lecture V.

[7] The canonical Gospels state that Jesus’ disciples deserted him and fled at the first sign of trouble (Mark 15:40 and parallels),and that Simon Peter, in particular, repudiated his leader (Matthew 26:33-35, Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34, John 13:36-38). This is the opposite of Josephus’ statement that Jesus was not abandoned by his followers.

[8]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)

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

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

[9] In the Gospel of Mark*, Slavonic Josephus ** and Apocryphal John texts ***, John posed a threat to the legitimacy of Herod Antipas’ rule by implying that Herod’s impious marriage to his sister in law made him unfit to rule over his Jewish subjects.

* Mark 6:14-20

**( (9)John the Forerunner, p. 644 and (11) The Wild Man (John) p. 646, from the Slavonic Additions in Josephus III, the Jewish Was, Books IV-VII, with an English translation by H. St. John Thackeray, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1928, reprinted 1968 )

***The Life of John the Baptist by Serapion from A. Mingana, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, vol. 1, Cambridge 1927, pp. 138-287 and The Beheading of John by Euriptus, the disciple of John, translated by Tony Burke from A. Vassiliev, Anecdota graeco-byzantina, I, Moscow, 1893, pp. 1-4, based on Montis Casin. 277 (11th c.) recovered from on July 18, 2014. This page archived at*/

An Occult Priestly Installation Ritual in the Secret Gospel of Mark


This is a guest post by David Blocker, refuting the presumptuous idea that the σινδόνα (linen cloth) the youth wore on his bare body when “Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God” would imply eroticism or sexuality. Instead Blocker suggests that the scene should be interpreted as an installation rite for a new High Priest.

The article is also available as a pdf file (An Occult Priestly Installation Ritual in the Secret Gospel of Mark) in which the colour coding of certain phrases in the article are easier to see.


An Occult Priestly Installation Ritual in the Secret Gospel of Mark

by David Blocker


In 1960, Morton Smith announced the discovery of an 18th century handwritten transcription of a letter written by Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. Clement’s letter was a response to an inquiry about a previously unknown version of the Gospel of Mark. Since the letter’s unveiling, it has been the subject of an ever escalating partisan madness, including accusations of forgery, academic fraud, postulated rituals of sex and death, and wildly imagined claims about the sexual predilections of the letter’s discoverer.

In this essay, an excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark quoted in Clement’s letter to Theodore, is compared to passages extracted from the Tanakh. The narrative sequence in the Secret Mark excerpt has multiple parallels to the descriptions of the installation rites for high priest. This suggests the claims that the long excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark has a homoerotic content are unfounded misinterpretations of the text [1].

The following passage was excerpted from Clement’s Letter to Theodore [2]. Phrases from the Secret Gospel of Mark that have parallels in the Tanakh have been color coded or noted with a special font (See below for parallel passages from the Tanakh).

“ … And a certain woman whose brother had died [ἀπέθανεν] was there. … And Jesus, … , went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway, going in to where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him [ἤγειρεν] (from the dead [3])… . And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days [4] Jesus told [ἐπέταξεν] him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth [σινδόνα] over his naked body [ἐπὶ γυμνοῦ]. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. … .”

Compare the excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark to these passages from the Tanakh:

Exodus 28:41-43, “41And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office. 42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: 43And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: … [5]”

Ezekiel 44:18, “They are to wear linen turbans 5 on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire.”

Leviticus 16:4 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA), “4 He shall be vested with a linen tunick, he shall cover his nakedness with linen breeches: he shall be girded with a linen girdle, and he shall put a linen mitre 6 upon his head: for these are holy vestments: all which he shall put on, after he is washed.”


Leviticus 16:4 (International Standard Version (©2012), “He is to wear a sacred linen tunic and linen undergarments that will cover his genitals. He is to clothe himself with a sash and wrap his head with a linen turban [6]. Because they are sacred garments, he is to wash himself with water before putting them on.”

Leviticus 16:23, “23 Then Aaron is and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there.

Exodus 20:26;“And you must not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness is not exposed”

Exodus 30:20 (New International Version (©2011)), “Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD,”

Leviticus 8:33-35: “Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for your ordination will last seven days. 34 What has been done today was commanded by the Lord to make atonement for you. 35 You must stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days and do what the Lord requires, so you will not die; for that is what I have been commanded.”

Ezekiel 44:25-26, “A priest must not defile himself by going near a dead person; however, if the dead person was his father or mother, son or daughter, brother or unmarried sister, then he may defile himself. 26 After he is cleansed, he must wait seven days.”

Comparison of extracts from Secret Mark with extracts from the Tanakh. All the examples are drawn from the above texts.

Secret Gospel of Mark: wearing a linen cloth over his naked body

Exodus 28: 41-42 “ linen breeches to cover their nakedness

Ezekiel 44:19, “ They are to wear linen turbans 5 on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists

Leviticus 16:4 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA), “ he shall cover his nakedness with linen breeches: … linen mitre … .”

Leviticus 16:23, “ linen garments


Secret Gospel of Mark: And a certain woman whose brother had died was there.

Ezekiel 44:25, “A priest must not defile himself by going near a dead person; however, if the dead person was his father or mother, son or daughter, brother or unmarried sister, then he may defile himself.


Secret Gospel of Mark: “and raised him (from the dead 3)”

Leviticus 8:33; “so you will not die

Exodus 30:20; (New International Version (©2011)), “so that they will not die.”


Secret Gospel of Mark: “Jesus told him what to do

Leviticus 8:34: “What has been done today was commanded by the Lordthat is what I have been commanded.”


Secret Gospel of Mark: “And after six days 4

Leviticus 8:33-35: “ … seven days, … your ordination will last seven days. … 35 … seven days… ”

Ezekiel 44:25-26, “ … he must wait seven days.”


Secret Gospel of Mark: “naked body

Exodus 28:42, “nakedness

Leviticus 16:4 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA), “nakedness

Exodus 20:26;“ … nakedness … ”


Secret Gospel of Mark: “And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days 4”

Leviticus 8:33-35: “Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting for seven days, … 35 You must stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days … ”


The “house of the youth” where he stayed for six or seven days prior to his meeting with Jesus, seems to play the role of the tent of meeting where the high priest elect stayed prior to the final installation ceremony.

Although there are clear parallels in the translations, the Secret Gospel of Mark is written in Greek and the Tanakh passages in Hebrew. In the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Septuagint, the nakedness is expressed in words like χρωτὸς (skin or body) and ἀσχημοσύνη (shame, that which is unseemly) while Secret Mark has the expressionἐπὶ γυμνοῦ (on his bare body). Secret Mark has σινδόνα (linen cloth) while the Septuagint has λίνος (linen) combined with the article of clothing. Both use the same word for “to die” (ἀποθνῄσκω) but different words for commanding (ἐπιτάσσω and ἐντέλλομαι), etcetera.

Accordingly comparison of the text of the Secret Gospel of Mark to selected texts from the Tanakh demonstrate a similar vocabulary if translation effect is taken into account. The latter texts describe how to perform the ritual for instructing and sanctifying a new high priest. There is no hint of eroticism in the passages from the Tanakh. Both the Tanakh and the Secret Gospel of Mark state that the person undergoing instruction wore a linen (under)garment. In the Tanakh they did so in order to preserve their modesty and there is every reason to suppose that this was the motive also in the Secret Mark scene. Based on the language shared by the Tanakh and the Secret Gospel of Mark there is no reason to assume that the passage from the Secret Gospel of Mark describes a homoerotic ritual. Furthermore, the transmitter of the excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark, Clement of Alexandria, does not ascribe any reprehensible properties to the text. Clement counsels Theodore, the recipient of his letter, that it is only the corrupted version used by the Carpocratians that is heretical and salacious [1].

Additionally, it is hard to see why certain critics of the text assumed that the rich young man’s love for Jesus was homosexual in nature. The same terminology is used to describe Jesus’ affection for Lazarus [7], and for the disciple who allegedly composed the Gospel of John, the disciple Jesus loved [8]. No mainstream bible interpreter has accused Jesus of harboring homosexual thoughts, in spite of his love for these two men. Peter also declared his love for Jesus [9], yet the mainstream theological literature has never accused him of lusting after Jesus. Thus it seems that the definition of the word “love” has been inconsistently applied by some of the critics of Secret Mark.

If one is to find a match in the ancient literature for the ritual the rich young man in the Secret Gospel of Mark underwent, a possible match is the ritual for installing a new high priest as set forth in the Tanakh. If this was actually the case, then the author of the Secret Gospel of Mark was doing his best to keep the true nature of the ritual occult, or hidden from the casual reader. The text hints that Jesus had ordained a new High Priest to supplant the incumbent High Priest, Joseph ben Caiaphas, who was maintained in office by the Romans.

This supposititious ordination occurs at a point in the canonical Gospel of Mark’s narrative immediately before Jesus’ march on Jerusalem[10]. Therefore, the suspicion is raised that Jesus had planned to overthrow the Romans and their quisling High Priest, and install a replacement High Priest who was more to his liking. Having an overtly political and militant Jesus as the nominal founder of Christianity would not have found favor with the rulers of the Roman Empire, so it is not surprising that the Secret Gospel of Mark was kept a secret.

Acknowledgements: I want to extend my gratitude to Roger Viklund for his editorial assistance.


David Blocker



[1]) On the other hand, Clement wrote to Theodore that the heretical Carpocratians had a spurious version of the text which did narrate unseemly carnal acts.The Carpocratian version of the Gospel of Mark apparently contained the phrase γυμνὸς γυμνῷ,naked man with naked man, which, according to Clement, was not found in the original version of the Secret Gospel of Mark.

Clement wrote this about the Carpocratian text:

“But since the foul demons are always devising destruction for the race of men, Carpocrates, instructed by them and using deceitful arts, so enslaved a certain presbyter of the church in Alexandria that he got from him a copy of the Secret Gospel, which he both interpreted according to his blasphemous and carnal doctrine and, moreover, polluted, mixing with the spotless and holy words utterly shameless lies. From this mixture is derived the teachings of the Carpocratians.”

[2]) The complete quotation of the Secret Mark excerpt:

“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me’. But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.”

[3]) “from the dead” inserted for clarity. See John 11:44 from the Raising of Lazarus story, which parallels the Secret Gospel of Mart narrative.

[4]) If the day the young man emerged from the tomb is counted as day one instead of day zero, then the rich young man’s meeting with Jesus occurred seven days after he exited the tomb. This way of counting days seems to have been a contemporary practice. Jesus’ resurrection on the third day is another example of this style of counting (Mid day Friday to early Sunday morning is counted as “three days”.)

[5]) Presumably the fatal iniquity referred to in Exodus 28:43 is the priest inadvertently exposing his genitals when he approaches the altar. The linen undergarment described in Exodus 28:42 would prevent this dread event and preserve the high priest’s modesty. Exodus 20:26 prohibits exposing oneself when mounting the altar.

[6]) John 11:44 (New International Version (NIV)), “44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’.”

Both John 11:44 and Leviticus 16:4 refer to head wrappings. The text of John11, the Raising of Lazarus, is a literary analogue of the excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark (

[7]) John 11:5; “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”John 11:36; “Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” The word love (Greek: agapaô, phileô) is used to describe what Jesus called his friendship with Lazarus:

John 11:11; “After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” ”

[8]) John 13:23, John 19:26, John 21:7, John 21:20.

[9]) The disciple Peter also admitted his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17) but no mainstream Bible interpreter has ever imputed a homosexual underpinning to Peter’s love for Jesus.

[10]) Mark 11:7-11, Jesus’ so called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Philip Jenkins’ New Parallel to Secret Mark: “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes”


Philip Jenkins

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, has published the article Alexandrian Attitudes: A new source for the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” in Books and Culture: A Christian Review.

I read the article yesterday and commented upon it today on Tony Burke’s blog Apocryphicity; Philip Jenkins’ New Parallel to Secret Mark: “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes”. I decided to turn my comment into a regular blog post.

Jenkins was the one who first (in 2001) suggested that Morton Smith had read Hunter’s novel “The Mystery of Mar Saba” and from that got inspired to forge Clement’s letter to Theodoros including quotations made from a Secret Gospel of Mark. I have dealt with that so-called parallel to some degree in my blog post Allan J. Pantuck on the Secret Gospel of Mark.

In Alexandrian Attitudes Jenkins has found a new parallel to the Secret Gospel of Mark in Angus Wilson’s 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. The plot in Jenkins’ own summary is as follows:

“Wilson’s novel synthesizes these three episodes. He describes the 1912 excavation at the Anglo-Saxon site of Melpham, which features the grave of a celebrated 7th- century missionary bishop named Eorpwald. (The date recalls Piltdown, the setting suggests Sutton Hoo.) To the astonishment of the chief excavator, Lionel Stokesay, Eorpwald’s grave includes a phallic fertility idol. The only explanation the archaeologists can suggest is that, in these dark early centuries, even the leaders of the venerated Anglo-Saxon church practiced a clandestine syncretism, a dual faith. The heroic Eorpwald was an apostate.

By the time of the novel’s main action in the 1950s, that shocking theory has achieved a grudging consensus status among British historians. It is particularly welcomed by ”Rose Lorimer,” a thinly disguised version of the eccentric real-life scholar Margaret Murray, the inventor of many modern theories about the history of witchcraft and neo-paganism.”

To learn the plot more thoroughly you could read this Wikipedia article. I’ll turn to Jenkins’ arguments.

The parallels presented by Jenkins are as follows:

1)      Gilbert in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes sought to disgrace and embarrass the historical establishment who was stupid enough to believe an obvious hoax. Also Smith did the same thing.

2)      Wilson was openly gay and also Smith was (possibly) gay or at least bisexual.

3)      The items were in both cases “faked” in order make the church confront the possibility that those early predecessors themselves were open to unrestrained “pagan” sexuality.

4)      Anglo-Saxon Attitudes had a particular appeal for readers interested in scholarship or in accurate accounts of the scholarly world and for those who were gay. Smith would then have had a particular interest in such a novel.

5)      Both were forgeries planted in early Christian sites.

6)      In both plots there was a man named Theodore.

7)      The intrusive item promises to rewrite church history, by proving that Christian orthodoxy co-existed with controversial clandestine practices.

8)      Both cases include dual religions where both shadow religions have a strong sexual content.

The first five arguments are only focused on Smith and not on the artifact itself. Also, the arguments presuppose that Secret Mark in fact IS a forgery and that Smith was the culprit. But they are only relevant if Smith was gay (for which there are no proofs, and even if he were, would it be relevant?), that he would have been interested in that book and its themes, that he wanted to embarrass the establishment and to promote a gay view; all which are unsupported suggestions which need to be proven before they can be used as proof (to avoid circular reasoning).

The remaining three arguments focus upon the parallels between “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” and “Secret Mark”. In “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” the forged phallic fertility idol is placed in the grave of bishop Eorpwald, “who is identified as a disciple of the great English Archbishop Theodore.” In both plots there is then, according to Jenkins, a man named Theodore. This, however, is only true to some degree. The otherwise unknown person that Clement is writing his letter to is named Theodoros and not Theodore. Theodore is of course an English (or proto-English) adaption of the Greek name. I doubt that the Theodore in “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” also was known by the name of Theodoros. At least that name does not occur in the book and if that Theodore is based on an actual bishop (i.e. Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury), that man was probably also known by just the name Theodore.

Jenkins suggests that both findings promise to rewrite church history, by proving that Christian orthodoxy co-existed with controversial clandestine practices. And that is true. But seriously, how strange would that be? Secret Mark is a controversial text. But how difficult would it be to find a novel in which there is a controversial discovery made? Any thrilling novels in which discoveries are made are bound to include controversial discoveries. That is the genre of such novels.

Finally both shadow religions have, according to Jenkins, a strong sexual content. But then of course there is nothing sexual at all in Secret Mark. In the letter, Clement deals with an alleged sexual plot with a naked man with a naked man, but he strongly opposes that such a text was part of Secret Mark and the quotation he presents shows nothing of the kind.

So this so-called parallel is even more far-fetched than the one with “The Mystery of Mar Saba” and the only relevant parallel are the names Theodore – Theodoros. The name Theodore is though a very common ecclesiastical name.

However, I do wonder a bit about the mathematics in the scenario put forward by Jenkins. I have a really hard time understanding how he can envision that this “parallel” would make it more likely that Smith was influenced by fictional novels to make a forgery. Let’s follow Jenkins in his logic and see where it ends. He writes the following:

“In order to grant the truth of Morton Smith’s alleged discovery of the Mar Saba letter, at the particular time and place, we must accept an outrageous series of coincidences, to which we must now add explicit echoes of two separate contemporary novels. At some point, surely, Occam’s Razor requires us to seek the simplest explanation for the whole Mar Saba affair.”

Jenkins accordingly thinks that two parallels would be a stronger proof that Smith was influenced to forge the Mar Saba letter. Even though this parallel is a really weak parallel, for the sake of argument let’s presume it was a strong one. So, then we have two novels that might have influenced Smith. Which one was it then that influenced him? Is Jenkins suggesting that it was both and that they combined made a stronger impact than they would have done separately? Let’s say that we find another novel and another novel and another novel with parallels. Would it then be even more likely that Smith forged the text if we have five parallels? If we found a hundred novels (which possibly could be made if we simply need to find such superficial parallels as the ones found in “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes”) would it then be almost impossible that Secret Mark was genuine?

The truth is that the more parallels we can find, the less likely it is that Smith was influenced by anyone of these. Instead it shows that forgeries are a common theme in many novels and given that many tens of thousands such books has been written, there is nothing strange that occasional parallels to genuine events and artifacts can be found if you search through all the books available.

Roger Viklund, April 20, 2014

Stephen Carlson’s Questionable Questioned Document Examination

I have (with permission) uploaded Scott G. Brown’s and Allan J. Pantuck’s 2010 article, “Stephen Carlson’s Questionable Questioned Document Examination”. The pdf-file has disappeared from the Internet and was not accessible anywhere else.

The HTML-text is available though on Timo S, Paananen’s blog at

The address to the pdf-file is

Jobjorn Boman versus Richard Carrier on the subject of Thallus on Jesus

I intend to discuss two recent articles on the subject of Thallus on Jesus. Richard Carrier, in “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011-2012), 185-91, argues that Thallus did not mention Jesus and that this is proven by Eusebius who actually quotes him. In response to Carrier’s article, Jobjorn Boman wrote “Comments on Carrier: Is Thallus Actually Quoted by Eusebius?”, which was published in Liber Annuus 62 (2012), Jerusalem 2013, pp. 319-25. Boman agrees with Carrier that Thallus did not mention Jesus at all, but reaches that conclusion from a different angle.

Having discussed this with Boman for a long time (many years actually); having evaluated Carrier’s article and proofread and commented upon Boman’s article in its coming into being, I think it is now time for me to present both views. I begin with Carrier’s article, as it was published first.

Carrier begins his article this way:

“It is commonly claimed that a chronologer named Thallus, writing shortly after 52 CE, mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus and the noontime darkness surrounding it (which reportedly eclipsed the whole world for three hours), and attempted to explain it as an ordinary solar eclipse. But this is not a credible interpretation of the evidence. A stronger case can be made that we actually have a direct quotation of what Thallus said, and it does not mention Jesus.” (185)

Boman summarizes Carrier’s argument thus:

“Richard Carrier argues, amongst other things, that Thallus was actually quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea, and thus that modern scholarship possesses the exact words of Thallus – words which do not contain any reference to Jesus Christ or Christianity.”

Thallus’ work is lost, and so is our knowledge of when he lived, other than that he was active before c. 180 CE (when Theophilus of Antioch referred to him in his Apology to Autolycus). The one, who is supposed to have said that Thallus (or in Greek: Thallos) mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus, is the Christian historian Julius Africanus in the early 3rd century CE. But also Africanus’ work is missing, so his saying is in turn rendered by George Syncellus writing in the early ninth century. In Syncellus’ version, Africanus had written the following regarding the “Gospel’s” view of the darkness that fell over the world:

“Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day, reckoning by the lunar calendar, and the events concerning the savior all occurred before the first day of the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun happens when the moon creeps under the sun, and this is impossible at any other time but between the first day of the moon’s waxing and the day before that, when the new moon begins. So how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?”

Now, Carrier believes that Thallus never wrote such a thing and that Eusebius actually quotes Thallus verbatim on this issue and thereby proves that to be the case.

Carrier emphasizes that Syncellus/Africanus does not say that Thallus mentioned Jesus, only that Thallus would have called the darkness that happened at Jesus’ death an eclipse of the sun – which just as easily could be interpreted as if Thallus mentioned an eclipse and Africanus thought that it was that one which occurred when Jesus hung on the cross.

In dating Thallus, Carrier rejects the information on this given by Eusebius in his Chronicle. The relevant information in that book is preserved in only an Armenian translation and there Eusebius says that Thallus dealt with events up until the 167th Olympiad, which ended in 109 BCE, more than a century before the time of Christ. Since Thallus probably would have written about later events, had he been writing in the first or second century CE, Eusebius seems to suggest that he was writing ca 100 BCE. This would then indicate that Thallus could not have written about a solar eclipse in the time of Christ, long after Thallus’ own death.

Carrier therefore suggests (like many others before him) that the Armenian text was corrupted and that the original read something else. Carrier does not think that Africanus would have made such a mistake as to believe that Thallus mentioned the darkness at Jesus’ death, if Thallus in fact lived much earlier. But unlike many Christian apologetics, Carrier does not suggest that Eusebius instead originally wrote the 207th Olympiad, which ended in 52 CE and that Thallus thereby would be giving the earliest testimony to Jesus. Instead Carrier makes a point that Eusebius just as easily could have written the 217th Olympiad ending in 92 CE, the 227th Olympiad ending in 132 CE or the 237th Olympiad ending in 172 CE.

But as I have shown in this Swedish blog post:, such a mistake could not easily be explained. In short, the mistake must either have been made in the original Greek or in the translation into Armenian. In Armenian the 167th Olympiad would be Ճերորդ Կերորդ Էերորդ (hundredth, sixtieth, seventh), i.e the initials ՃԿԷ = 100 + 60 + 7. The 207th is then Մերորդ Էերորդ, i.e. the initials ՄԷ = 200 + 7 and the 217th is Մերորդ Ժերորդ Էերորդ, i.e the initials ՄԺԷ = 200 + 10 + 7, and so on. In either case you must suppose two mistakes. If the mistake was made in Greek, 167 would be ρξζ, 207 would be σζ and 217 σιζ. Here as well we would have to suppose two mistakes. In fact, it would be as likely as if our 207, 217, 227 etc, would be rendered as 167 by mistake. Carrier is of course right in that if the original did not say 167 ­– it could as easily have said 217, 227, 237 as 207. But the fact is that such an error is rather unlikely to be made and is in fact suggested simply because Thallus otherwise would have died long before he could have reported about the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion.

As I said earlier, Carrier thinks that Eusebius actually quotes Thallus. In his Chronicle Eusebius do quote a certain Phlegon, seemingly verbatim. This same Phlegon is also mentioned by Africanus, where also he is said to be witnessing the darkness that befell the earth when Jesus died. He should even have stated that the darkness occurred “in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth.” But in Eusebius’ quotation, Phlegon says nothing like this, but instead:

“Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 CE], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [i.e. noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea [modern days İznik]”.

As can be seen Phlegon only mentions a solar eclipse which obviously was seen in Bithynia and an earth quake also in Bithynia, but not necessarily occurring at the same time. It happened at the sixth hour – but did of course not last until the ninth. As we nowadays can calculate the exact time when solar eclipses historically have occurred, we can tell that there was no total solar eclipse in Palestine anytime during the period of Pilate, and of course there has never been a solar eclipse at the Jewish Passover, as solar eclipses cannot occur during that festival.

But we now know when the only possible solar eclipse reported by Phlegon took place. Phlegon supposedly should have said that it occurred in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad. This Olympiad (the four years between the games) lasted from 28/29 to 32 CE and the fourth year should accordingly mean 32 CE. But there was only one total solar eclipse in this part of the world that would fit Phlegon’s description, and this solar eclipse happened on November 24, 29 CE along a corridor passing across Bithynia.


All calculations are from NASA’s Eclipse Web Site.

Only between the blue lines did the moon totally cover the sun; just for a few seconds close to the edges while the eclipse would have lasted a couple of minutes in the centre near the orange line. The sun would only have been partially darkened in Palestine and even if there was an earthquake in Bithynia, no one in Jerusalem would have noticed it; being 1080 km away. I have written more about this in the Swedish blog post Thallos och Flegon som Jesusvittnen. Del 4 – Solförmörkelsen.

Anyway, before Eusebius quotes Phlegon, he seemingly refers to [an]other source[s] and with the already cited part above, the passage goes like this:

“Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies which had been foretold, underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 CE]. Also at that time in other Greek compendiums we find an event recorded in these words: ‘the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell’”. All these things happened to occur during the Lord’s passion. In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: ‘Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 CE], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [i.e. noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea’”.

It is in these “other Greek compendiums” that Thallus is hidden, according to Carrier’s theory. He gives two major reasons for believing this.

First, the Greek for “other” is allos (ἄλλος) and Thallus’ Greek name was Thallos (θαλλοσ). Hence, the original θαλλοῦ (Thallou) would according to this theory have been altered into ἄλλοις “since only two errors are required to alter the one to the other (the loss of a theta, and a confusion or ‘emendation’ converting an upsilon to iota-sigma”).

Second, even if Eusebius meant “other Greek compendiums”, also these must have included Thallus’ testimony, as 1) “Eusebius used a chronology of Thallus as a source, and […] it was almost certainly the very same Histories cited by Africanus”, and 2) “Eusebius would certainly have quoted Thallus here” if “Thallus mentioned the eclipse in connection with Jesus”.

The latter reason is, in my opinion, a stronger argument. But if we shall presume that Eusebios originally wrote Thallos, we have to suppose two things which by themselves are not that likely. 1) That two letters (figures) were accidentally altered into 167 and two letters (Th and u) in Thallou were dropped and two letters (o and i) were added to form the word allois. Even if Carrier is correct and it would just require the “loss of a theta, and a confusion or ‘emendation’ converting an upsilon to iota-sigma” it would still be two errors.

In Thallus: An Analysis Carrier is arguing the exact opposite to this, namely that ALLOS was not originally THALLOS in the writings of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.167). The reading Thallos is in fact an addition to the text; an addition made in the eighteenth century, changing ALLOS (other) into THALLOS, while all the manuscripts simply has ALLOS. In this case Carrier argues that “there is no good basis for this conjecture. First, the Greek actually does make sense without the added letter (it means ‘another’), and all extant early translations confirm this very reading. Second, an epitome of this passage does not give a name but instead the generic ‘someone,’ which suggests that no name was mentioned in the epitomizer’s copy.”

Even though Carrier’s theory is possible, and he is certainly right in stating that Thallus did not mention a solar eclipse at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the most obvious interpretation still seems to be that Eusebius wrote “167” and “other” – which is exactly what Boman suggests.

Regarding the possible Greek corruptions of the number of the Olympiads, Boman writes the following:

”However, if the text was uncorrupted in the Greek exemplar and the corruption occurred either when the text was translated into Armenian or when the Armenian text was copied, speculations regarding plausible scribal errors in Greek will not be of any use.”

One of Carrier’s arguments is that “Thallus most likely wrote in the 2nd century, since pagan notice of the Gospels is unattested before that century”. But as Boman notices, Carrier doesn’t think that Thallus was responding to any Christian claim, and then this argument falls flat. We accordingly don’t know when Thallus wrote other than the fact that he is being referred to by c. 180 CE and accordingly must have lived before that. However, this does not mean that he must have live shortly before 180 CE since nothing he is said to have written about (apart from the darkness at the death of Christ) took place in the Common Era.

So, Thallus wrote before 180 CE, and if he correctly reported of a darkness at the time of Jesus’ death, he wrote after 30 CE. But Boman says that if “it were not for Africanus’ claim regarding the crucifixion darkness, Thallus … could have been writing in the 1st century BC.” And it is quite likely that Africanus has twisted both Phlegon’s and Thallus’ statements, so how much trust should we put on Africanus for being able to date Thallus’ report? It could of course also – as I have suggested in the Swedish blog post Thallos och Flegon som Jesusvittnen. Del 6 – Är Flegon hos Africanus ett tillägg? – be that the passage on Phlegon in Africanus is a later addition. If so, Africanus has of course not twisted Phlegon’s statement.

Regarding what other Greek compendiums Eusebius could have meant if he did not think of Thallus, Boman refers to Nataniel Lardner, who suggests that Eusebius first of all meant only One Greek compendium and that this was the one by Phlegon whom he directly afterwards quotes and thereafter says:

“‘so writes the forenamed man.’ […] To me it appears exceeding manifest that Eusebius [and thus also Jerome] speaks of one writer only, meaning Phlegon the compiler of the Olympiads.”(The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, D. D.: With a Life by Dr. Kippis in ten volumes, VII, London 1838, 108.)

Boman continues:

“As Carrier himself says, the Greek could refer to one single pagan work – such as the Olympiads by Phlegon. The word “other” (ἄλλοις) could have been written by Eusebius to emphasize that there were other testimonies than the Christian

There are two feeble arguments in Boman’s theory. One is the fact that Africanus would have been fooled to think that Thallus wrote about a darkness at the time of Jesus, if he in fact was living more than a century earlier. The other is the not so straightforward reading and obvious interpretation of Eusebius’ testimony as referring to only Phlegon. Boman calls Lardner’s theory “not improbable”, but that of course does not make it probable.

On the other hand, with Boman’s theory there is no need to suggest double alterations of both ALLOS and 167, which in both cases must presuppose two errors each. Boman’s theory deals with the text more or less as it has come down to us. Although not a fully satisfactory explanation, Boman’s suggestion “that Africanus referred to Thallus from memory … and confused him with Phlegon” involves at least fewer assumptions and we know that people often quoted from memory and that it was far from unusual that their memory failed them.

CARRIER’s and BOMAN’s comments

Carrier made some comments on Boman’s article and Boman did in turn reply to this. The exchange can be found here on Carrier’s blog and since these comments are to some degree enlightening, I will also make some comments on their comments.

Carrier’s main objection against Boman’s thesis concerns one of the objections also made by me – the not so straightforward reading of Eusebius as referring to only Phlegon. He makes three objections to that:

1)      If “other” (allois) “was written by Eusebius to emphasize that there were other testimonies than the Christian” then there has to be at least one earlier “reference to Christian testimonies” in the text – which there according to Carries isn’t. Carrier rejects Boman’s “reference to ‘prophecies’ foretelling the year of Christ’s passion”, since “one would not say ‘other’ in respect to that unless you meant other prophecies.”

2)      The second objections is linguistic, and Carrier claims that Eusebius’ εὕρομεν ἱστορούμενα κατὰ λέξιν ταῦτα (heuromen historeumena kata lexin tauta) “is an introduction of an exact quotation”. The Greek “kata lexin” is according to Carrier an idiom for “as the phrase goes”. And “κατὰ λέξιν” for sure means word for word or verbatim. So according to Carrier, this cannot “be followed by a summary or a paraphrase”, which it would have to be if Boman is correct.

3)      The third objection is also linguistic. Eusebius continues by writing: γράφει δὲ καὶ Φλέγων … (graphei de kai Phlegôn …); i.e “and also Phlegon … wrote”; adding “about these same things” and “in these words”, introducing Phlegon for the first time and directly thereafter quoting him. This suggests, according to Carrier, that the previous “other compendiums”, cannot refer to Phlegon.

Boman counters the first point, by claiming that there are indeed earlier references to Christian testimonies. He quotes the Latin translation of Jerome as this is older than the Greek excerpt in Syncellus. And in this Latin text “there is a direct reference to the Christian Gospels just (not even 40 words) before the reference to ‘other’ testimonies.” So if we are to trust the accuracy of the older Latin text, there is indeed at least one earlier reference to Christian testimonies in the text and so, contrary to Carrier’s opinion, “other” (allois) could have been Eusebius’ way to refer to other testimonies than the Christian.

The linguistic arguments made by Carrier are though intriguing and not so easily dismissed. I.e especially the phrase “kata lexin”, which normally intrudes direct quotations. Consider for instance Clement of Alexandria as he introduces the longer “quotation” from the Secret Gospel of Mark:

ἀμέλει μετὰ τὸ· ἦσαν δὲ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἀναβαίνοντες εἰς Ἰεροσόλυμα· καὶ τὰ καὶ τὰ ἐξῆς ἕως· μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστήσεται· ὧδε ἐπιφέρει κατὰ λέξιν· καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς βηθανίαν …

For example, after “And they were in the road going up to Jerusalem,” and what follows, until “After three days he shall arise,” it says like this word for word: “And they are coming to Bethany …

So, we have two rivaling views leading ultimately to the same conclusion, albeit not arrived to by the same process; namely that Thallus never wrote about any darkness in connection to the death of Jesus. But of course we already knew that there was no total solar eclipse in Jerusalem at all during the time of Pilate and accordingly Thallus could not have written about any. In fact there has only been three total eclipses in Jerusalem during the last two thousand years, that is the rarity of such events. The first one occurred on December 27 in 83 CE and it lasted 1 minute and 33 seconds. The others occurred on March 10 in 601 CE and August 20 in 993 CE.

There has though been a number of partial sun eclipses in Jerusalem during the period Jesus is supposed to have been crucified; the period 26–36 CE. They were as follows:

Date Type Start Max End
06 Feb 26 CE Partial 07:24:07 08:40:37 10:08:33
26 Jan 27 CE Partial 16:35:06 17:06:20 17:07(s)
24 Nov 29 CE Partial 09:22:15 10:44:13 12:12:06
28 Apr 32 CE Partial 07:28:14 07:47:21 08:06:51
12 Sep 33 CE Partial 10:54:49 11:58:21 12:59:29
01 Sep 34 CE Partial 11:46:40 12:58:19 14:06:27

As can be seen, there were only partial solar eclipses in Jerusalem during this period (none of which would have made it dark enough), and of course none during the Jewish Passover as it always is celebrated at a time when there can be no solar eclipses.

So, who is right then, Carrier or Boman?

Carrier suggests that we in fact have the very words of Thallus reported by Eusebius and that we therefore know that he never mentioned Jesus in connection to a solar eclipse. In order to believe this we need to suppose two distortions of the text, both including double mistakes.

With Boman’s theory we do not need to suppose any alterations to this part of the text. Yet we need to understand why Eusebios would not be quoting although he specifically says he does, and I guess we also need to suppose that the part about Phlegon in Julius Africanus is a later interpolation, as it otherwise would be strange that he first calls Phlegon Thallus but in the next sentence gets it right.

Anyhow, Thallus never mentioned Jesus and accordingly is no witness to him either.

Roger Viklund, July 9, 2013

Timo’s and my article on-line

Since I believe knowledge is to be shared, I decided to make Timo Paananen’s and my article available on-line, in accordance with the conditions set up by Brill:

Permitted use of Articles from Journals, Multi-Authored Books and Encyclopedias

  • A Brill author may post the post-print version of his or her own article that appeared in a journal or multi-authored book volume or encyclopedia on his or her own personal website or webpage free of charge. This means the article can be shown exactly as it appears in print. No permission is required.

So here it is:

Distortion of the Scribal Hand in the Images of Clement’s Letter to Theodore, Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013), 235-247”.

Roger Viklund, June 27, 2013

“Distortion of the Scribal Hand in the Images of Clement’s Letter to Theodore” in Vigiliae Christianae

VCFinally my and Timo S. Paananen’s peer reviewed article on the handwriting in Clement’s Letter to Theodore is out. It is published in Vigiliae Christianae, which claims to be the “leading journal in its field”. The correct title ought to be: “R. Viklund, T.S. Paananen, Distortion of the Scribal Hand in the Images of Clement’s Letter to Theodore, Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013), 235-247”.


This article discusses Morton Smith’s famous manuscript find, Clement’s Letter to Theodore (including the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark), and critically assesses Stephen C. Carlson’s study of its handwriting (2005). Carlson’s analysis is found to be wanting due to line screen distortion introduced by the halftone reproduction process in the images he used. We conclude that the script in the manuscript of Clement’s Letter to Theodore lacks all and any kind of “signs of forgery”.

The content resembles that of the on-line article I wrote in December 2009: “Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis”, published on my web site here, and in a shorter post on Timo Paananen’s blog here. Now, those who have rejected the implications of the fact that the images Carlson used for his study seem to have been the direct cause of the so-called tremors, with the argument that the information did not come from a reliable source, will have to find other arguments.

Roger Viklund, 2013-06-06

Literary Parallels between Clement’s Excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Raising of Lazarus from the Gospel of John, and the Transfiguration of Jesus from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke

A guest post by David Blocker:






Previous posts on this web site demonstrated the existence of extensive literary parallels between Clement’s excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Raising of Lazarus story from the Gospel of John, and the synoptic Gospels’ stories about miraculous healings, reanimations of the dead and the expulsion of demons into swine.

This essay and the accompanying table demonstrate newly discovered parallels between Clement’s Secret Mark excerpt and the Transfiguration of Jesus episode from the synoptic gospels (Mark 9:2-13 and parallels).

I became aware of the parallels when I noticed that the words “six days” at the beginning of the Transfiguration story in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 9:2), also occurred in the Secret Mark excerpt and in the Gospel of John (John 12:1). Further examination of these texts demonstrated that they and Clement’s excerpt from Secret Mark have a closely linked set of sequential parallel themes.

The text of Matthew’s Transfiguration scene also closely mirrors the above mentioned texts.

These parallels are presented in the accompanying table.

The table named “Secret Mark Parallels with the Transfiguration in the Gospels of Mark Luke and Matthew” shows that the texts contain parallel mentions of traveling, rebuking, the Kingdom of Heaven (or God), six days, white clothing and giving instructions. The gospel texts are in vertical columns, the parallel text segments are arranged in horizontal rows.  The left most column of the table lists the topics of the parallels that are contained in each row, and specific text parallels in each row are color coded.

I had previously demonstrated that the synoptic gospel stories about miraculous healings, the exorcism of demons, and the restoration of the dead to life, have a literary relationship to the Secret Gospel of Mark excerpt, which in turn is related to the Raising of Lazarus story in the Gospel of John (See here and here).

This suggests that the miracle stories from the synoptic gospels are literary creations. They seem to be based on, or were inspired by a common source, most likely a story similar to the Raising of Lazarus. They are not unrelated accounts of independently occurring events.

The Gospel of Mark is a literary fugue, whose component miracle stories are variations on a common theme.

The Gospel of Mark was already known to have an intricate internal structure due to the way its parts were assembled out of intercalated layers.

I have now shown that the author of Mark included yet another complication in his work, by making it a literary fugue.

The narrative structure of the Gospel of Mark is remarkably complex, with its internal verses as intertwined and closely layered as the melody of a Bach fugue.

The synoptic gospels’ healing pericopes are often more closely matched to the Raising of Lazarus pericope than they are to the Secret Mark excerpt. This indicates the text they used as their model or source, was more like the Gospel of John’s text about Lazarus, than Secret Marks’ account of Jesus and the rich young man.

The Transfiguration pericope in the Gospel of Luke contains some significant differences from the Mark’s and Matthew’s Transfiguration.  The Gospel Luke does not have the “six day” parallel (Luke 9:28, “…about eight days…”), nor does Luke explicitly mention Jesus giving instructions to his disciples at the end of the parallel texts (Luke 9:36 vs. Mark 9:9 and Matthew 17:9).

Luke does contain a phrase about awakening from sleep (Luke 9:32, “…and when they wakened…”) which has no counterpart in Matthew or Mark, but which is analogous to phrases about waking up in the Secret Mark excerpt (“…and when Jesus woke up…”) and the Gospel of John’s Raising of Lazarus (John 11:11, “…I go to awake him out of sleep…”).

The author of the Gospel of Luke used his sources differently than did the author of Mark and Matthew.  The author of Luke changed the number of days from the “six days” of the other texts to eight, emphasized the disciples’ sleeping, presented Peter as bewildered by the miracle he had just witnessed (Luke 9:33), and had the disciples decide to remain silent about the miracle on their own (Luke 9:28), rather than at Jesus’ behest (Mark 9:9 and Matthew 17:9).

Luke’s version of the Transfiguration has overlaps with the text from the Gospel of John that the other two synoptic texts do not have. Interestingly some of these passages prefigure later passages in the synoptic gospels. For example the disciple’s napping while Jesus was Transfigured (Luke 9:32) prefigured their later somnolence while Jesus was awaiting his arrest (Mark 14:37, Luke 22:45, Matthew 26:40), reinforcing the disciples’ unworthiness to be his followers or the inheritors of his teachings.

The synoptic gospel’s account of the Transfiguration described a mountain top revelation about the Kingdom of Heaven, from people who had previously gained admission to the Kingdom of Heaven (Moses and Elijah).  The essay A Fourteenth Century Text in which Jesus Taught the Kingdom of God During the Night at Bethany: Does It Demonstrate That Secret Mark Is an Ancient Text, and Not a Modern Forgery? which I co-authored with Roger Viklund, showed that there were literary and thematic parallels between the Secret Mark Excerpt and another text about the revelation of the mysteries of Heaven to Jesus’ disciples, the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew. 21:17 (From George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995).

The Secret Mark excerpt discovered by Morton Smith provides a key text that shows how seemingly disparate passages in the synoptic gospels are linked to one another, to the Raising of Lazarus story in the Gospel of John, and to a passage in Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.

I want to thank Roger Viklund for his editorial assistance and for generously allowing me to publish my findings on his web blog.

David Blocker, 2013 06 04

Richard Carrier’s article: Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200

In December last year Richard Carrier had his article Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200 published in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012,
pp. 489–-514).

I should have commented upon it long ago. Anyway, in that article Carrier strongly arguments for the probability that the brief mention of Jesus in connection with James in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (AJ) 20.200 is an accidental interpolation.

Richard Carrier

Richard Carrier, credit Wikipedia

Carrier begins by referring to the Testimonium Flavianum and says that he sides “with those scholars who conclude that the entire passage is an interpolation and that there was no mention of Jesus in the original text of AJ 18” (489). He gives two major arguments for reaching that position.

One is that the text of the Testimonium is so relatively short compared to what could be expected if Josephus really would have written about Jesus. A forger on the other hand would only have had “the remaining space available on a standard scroll” to add the additional text and would therefore “have been limited” to write only a short text. I have seen Carrier suggest this previously, but have never been convinced by it due to one specific circumstance. I have counted the words (or I guess the letters) of all the twenty books of the Antiquities of the Jews, and found that they deviated rather much in length. Book 18 is surpassed in length by very much more than the length of the Testimonium in quite number of books. So, unless I have misunderstood Carrier’s argument, there would have been plenty of room for a very much longer Testimonium if the scroll with book 18 were of the same length as some of the scrolls containing the longer books.

The other argument on the other hand, is much stronger. Carrier correctly, in my opinion, argues the following: “the paragraph that follows the TF begins with, ‘About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder . . .’ (AJ 18.65), thereby indicating that Josephus had just ended with the sedition resulting in a public massacre described in AJ 18.60–62, and leaving no logical place for the unrelated digression on Jesus and the Christians (AJ 18.63–64).” I have made the same argument myself:

“The truly precarious in the situation is thus the first sentence of paragraph 4, which follows directly on the Testimonium. It says: “At about the same time, another [emphasis added] sad calamity put the Jews into disorder [ἐθορύβει, ethorubei]”. This means that if the Testimonium is genuine, if so only to a portion, Josephus must allude to the Testimonium when he directly after the Testimonium writes that another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder. He then had to be of the opinion that Jesus’ death was a sad calamity for the Jews – something almost unthinkable unless Josephus was a Christian, which he most likely was not.” (Part 2e of my article “The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study”, an article I intend to publish as a 200 pages pdf-file once I have updated the language and made some amendments)

But Carrier’s article is primarily not about the Testimonium, but the James passage. This he argues is an interpolation which came to be included accidentally. He further argues that “the passage was never originally about Christ or Christians. It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.” (489) His way of reasoning is simplified this:

1)      Accidental interpolations happened frequently. When text by mistake was left out in the copying process, later proofreader would add the missing text either between the lines or in the margin. This text would then be inserted in the next copy of that copy. But scribes also included other text in the margins and between lines – sort of footnotes and the like. And “there was no standard notation for distinguishing marginal notes from accidentally omitted text” (490), and so marginal notes could easily be taken for being part of the original, and once it was included in the next copy the mistake would continue to be copied. Carrier writes: “A later scribe simply mistook the marginal note as accidentally omitted text and, upon creating a copy, ‘rectified’ the error by ‘reinserting’ it, thus creating an altered sentence that appears to be what its author originally wrote, but is not.” (491)

2)      Origen and Eusebius used the same manuscript or manuscript line of Josephus: “Around 231 C.E, Origen established a Christian library in Caesarea, which was passed to Pamphilus and then to Eusebius. Eusebius was thus in all likelihood using the very same manuscripts of Josephus that Origen had been using, or else copies thereof.” (492)

3)      Origen did not know the Testimonium: “In fact, the TF in that precise form was almost certainly not known to Origen, as there are several passages where it is almost certain he would have remarked upon it, even quoted it, had he known of it.” (492) Carrier, again correctly in my opinion, rejects all subjective reconstructions of alternative versions of the Testimonium, and also cautions us to trust the accuracy of so-called quotations. Like me, he thinks Alice Whealey is wrong when she claims that Eusebius originally wrote “He was thought to be the Messiah” in his quotation of the Testimonium. I am pleased to see that Carrier argues in the same way as I do regarding the small deviations of the Testimonium, especially in the translations: “More likely some early copy of Eusebius’s History alone was ‘improved’ by a scribe intending to restore a more plausible quotation from a Jew … and it is this that we see in Whealey’s cited examples. It is inherently less likely that all manuscript traditions of all the texts of Eusebius and all manuscript traditions of Josephus were conspiratorially emended in the same way, than only one manuscript tradition of a single text of Eusebius being emended the other way” (494).

4)      Since the Testimonium was not in Origen’s copy of AJ, but in Eusebius’, the latter must have used a copy of Origen’s copy from the same library and into which the Testimonium had been added. Carrier does accordingly not think that Eusebius invented the Testimonium himself. Although I would not bet on it, someone must have written the Testimonium if it was inserted into AJ, and Eusebius is then an obvious candidate. At least we can agree on that it was probably not yet invented by the time of Origen in the 240’s.

5)      The manuscript used by Eusebius would then have included marginal notes made into Origen’s manuscript (from which it would have been copied) and in all likelihood it also included Origen’s own notes.

6)      Carrier assumes that Josephus wrote “the brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others . . . ,” and that “the one called Christ” was added while perhaps at the same time “ben Damneus” was removed. He gives five reasons for assuming this (by me enumerated as a–e). a) If someone would make a note to remind himself of the place where he thought Josephus mentioned Jesus, “the one called Christ” is just what one could expect to be written. b) A participial clause such as this one is typical for interlinear notes. c) The phrase is practically identical to Matt 1.16 and something Josephus hardly would have written. d) In context, it seems odd to imagine that the executions would be executions of Christians, not least because many influential Jews are said to be very upset. e) The way in which this James is said to be killed diverges considerable from how it is described in Christian sources. I agree on all five issues, although point b seems a bit weaker than the rest.

7)      Carrier assumes that the wording ὃς … ἀδελφὸς Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”, stems from Origen expression (but not from empty nothingness) and not from Josephus. If “who was called Christ,” is removed, all that Josephus in AJ 20.200 and Origen share in common is the name James and the expression “brother of Jesus”. But they primarily differ in Origen linking James to the fall of Jerusalem, calling him Just and having the Jews wishing to have him killed (500).

8)      When Eusebius quotes the same passage in Josephus as Origen refers to, he is obviously not quoting Josephus but Origen. This can be seen from the fact that the quotation is basically identical to Origen’s wordings, that nor Eusebius knows where Josephus should have written it (Origen never said this) and that Eusebius is quoting the passage whereas Origen most certainly is not. Still the wording is identical. After this Eusebius also quotes the James passage which Origen never referred to and which obviously has entered into Josephus’ AJ after the time of Origen.

9)      If Josephus would have written about Jesus Christ of the Bible and he also had written the Testimonium, he would have provided a cross-reference and also explained what the name meant. Instead it is more likely that Josefus was referring to another Jesus, the one who became high priest after Ananus in 62 C.E. and whom Josefus mentions directly afterwards (503). According to Carrier (and I agree once more) the only intelligible reading of the story is that Ananus had James the brother of Jesus falsely accused and executed, and was punished for this by being disposed as High Priest and that James’ brother Jesus, son of Damneus, was appointed new High Priest: “In effect, Josephus was saying, ‘Ananus illegally executed the brother of Jesus, which got a reaction; for his crime, he was deposed and replaced by Jesus.’” (504) This Carrier, once again correctly, says is supported by the fact that the execution of Josephus’ James in no way, except for the stoning, corresponds to the Christian accounts of James’ death.

10)  Carrier suggests that Origen’s source for the James story was not Josephus, but the Christian hagiographer Hegesippus. This Hegesippus calls the Christian James “the Just”, and says that the fall of Jerusalem was the result of the execution of James (508). As the names Hegesippus and Josephus often were confused and Origen obviously refers to the same things as said by Hegesippus, Christian conceptions not shared by Josephus, the obvious interpretation, according to Carrier, is that Origen mistook a work by Hegesippus for being written by Josephus. (509-10)

To summarize, this is what Carrier suggests. In the 240’s Origen writes that “Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus wrote, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. Although Origen says that Josephus wrote this, Origen nevertheless got it from Hegesippus, from whom he paraphrases it, not quotes it. He also includes a passage from Matt 1.16, and this he does in his Commentary on Matthew.

Origen searches Josephus in order to find where Josephus had written this, but does not manage to find the passage. He only finds the story of the stoning of one James in AJ 20.200 which spoke of “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James”. Perhaps he made a note there: “the one called Christ”. If Origen did not make such a note, then someone else later on made it, adapting to the phrase Origen previously used.

Eusebius used the same library as Origen less than a century later, and probably had a copy of AJ which was made from the very manuscript used by Origen. In the copying of that manuscript, the marginal note would have been inserted into the text so that it now read “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, the name for whom was James …”. Eusebius, apart from this, also quoted the passage given by Origen as if it had been written by Josephus. But since he only got it from Origen, neither he could say where Josephus had written this.

As AJ later was copied, it was the expanded version used by Eusebius that became the standard version from which all later copies were made.

Most of this has already been dealt with at length, also by me. The “new” things are that this is published in a peer reviewed article (which seems to be so important for so many), and the idea of the manuscript line leading directly from Origen to Eusebius. Also this is known facts, but Carrier has refined and isolated the train of thought, even leaving out many alternative scenarios as being less likely. Although I share Carrier’s opinion that also the mention of Jesus Christ in AJ 20.200 is a later addition to the text, I am not as convinced as he seems to be, that this was done as described above. It is for sure a convincing line of argument that Carrier presents, still there are a number of other possibilities which – at least combined – seem to be as likely. The least likely scenario though is that Josephus would have written it.

Roger Viklund, 2013-04-02

The Literary Relationship of the Raising of Lazarus story to The Secret Gospel of Mark Excerpts quoted in the Mar Saba Letter of Clement, and Miraculous Healing Stories in the Synoptic Gospels

This is a Guest post by David Blocker on Literary Relationship between the Lazarus story in GJohn and Secret Mark and Healing Stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The enclosed table is made as an A0 Oversize PDF of more than one square meter in size. It accordingly needs to be magnified on the screen.

Parallel Passages in the Gospels of SecretMark_John_Mark_Luke and Matthew

Two previous posts on this blog have demonstrated parallels between the “Secret Gospel of Mark” excerpt contained in “Clement’s Letter to Theodore” and canonical and non canonical gospel texts:

Overlaps between Secret Mark, the Raising of Lazarus in John, and the Gerasene Swine episode in Mark

A Fourteenth Century Text in which Jesus Taught the Kingdom of God During the Night at Bethany: Does It Demonstrate That Secret Mark Is an Ancient Text, and Not a Modern Forgery? (as a PDF file here)

This essay discusses the attached table which demonstrates additional parallels between the “Secret Gospel of Mark” and the canonical “Gospel of Mark” and its synoptic counterparts in Luke and Matthew.  These parallel texts appear to be derived from the story of the “Raising of Lazarus”.

The texts have been arranged in parallel columns.  Text parallels appearing in the same row have generally been color coded or given a special font attribute for emphasis.  Text segments that are out of sequence or have been duplicated are enclosed by parenthesizes.

The parallel texts include the “The Raising of Lazarus” (John 11),  “The Long Excerpt from the Secret Gospel of Mark”, “The Demoniac and the Gadarene Swine” (Mark 5 and synoptic parallels), Healing the Blind (Mark 10 and parallels), “The Epileptic Boy Healed” (Mark 9 and parallels, including Shem Tob Hebrew Matthew 17), “Jesus and the sons of Zebedee” (Mark 10 and parallels), the “Naked Youth in the Garden of Gethsemane” (Mark 14) and “Jesus visits Mary and Martha” (Luke 10).  The interrelationships between these texts and the “Anointing of Jesus” (John 12, Mark 14, and Matthew 26) are also demonstrated.  The dependency of Luke 10 on both the “Raising of Lazarus” and the “Anointing of Jesus” is shown.

As previously noted the long excerpt from Secret Mark contains the phrase “Mystery of the Kingdom of God” which has its counterpart only in “Shem Tob Hebrew Matthew”.  It is unlikely that Morton Smith had been acquainted with this text (see A Fourteenth Century Text in which Jesus Taught the Kingdom of God During the Night at Bethany).  If Morton Smith had forged “Secret Mark”, he would have had to have known of at least some of the links to the other texts included in the accompanying table.  Rather than attempting to make his reputation based on the putative discovery of the “Secret Mark” letter, Morton Smith could have made his reputation by publishing his discovery of the linked texts, a significant accomplishment in itself.

The fact is that during his lifetime, even though he wrote extensively about “Secret Mark”, Morton Smith never recognized that it was related to a multiplicity of other texts.  This oversight would have been unlikely had he been the creator of “Secret Mark”.

The fact that multiple miracle stories within the “Gospel of Mark” are related to a single story in the “Gospel of John” means that the order in which the canonical gospels were written must be reconsidered, as well as how solutions to the synoptic problem are formulated.

The Markan miracle stories listed in the accompanying table are based on incompletely overlapping excerpts from the “Raising of Lazarus” (John 11) and its sequel the “Anointing at Bethany” (John 12).  This suggests that the stories from the “Gospel of Mark” are based on the Lazarus story or a precursor of the Lazarus story.  The converse, that the narrative in John was created from an assemblage of several similarly constructed but seemingly independent stories from the “Gospel of Mark” is unlikely.  This leads to the conclusion that there is at least one extended narrative sequence in the “Gospel of John”: (John 11-12) that predates the composition of the “Gospel of Mark”.

The Markan story that is most closely related to the Bethany narratives in the “Gospel of John” is the excerpts from the “Secret Gospel of Mark”.  Next in line, the “The Epileptic Boy Healed” seems to have the greatest narrative similarity to the Bethany narratives in the “Gospel of John”.

However, in spite of the dissimilarity of the stories, it is the canonical Mark story of the “Demoniac and the Gerascene Swine” that has the greatest phrase by phrase overlap with the text of the “Raising of Lazarus”.  The motivation of the author of the “Gospel of Mark” for creating such a lengthy and carefully constructed caricature of the Bethany narratives within his own text is now unknown.  He must have had some now indiscernible reason to lampoon or conceal the “Raising of Lazarus” story and to disconnect it from the “Anointing of Jesus” story.  The author of the “Gospel of Luke” also almost completely expunged all recognizable traces of the Bethany narratives from his text.  Again this suggests that there was something about the Bethany stories that the synoptic Gospel authors thought best to conceal.

“The Naked Youth in the Garden of Gethsemane” (Mark 14) appears to have a tenuous relationship to the “Secret Gospel of Mark”.  One possible hypothesis is that Mark 14.50-52 is a fragment of the “corrupt and unspeakable” Carpocratian version of the “Gospel of Mark” referred to by Clement in his letter to Theodore.

The stories of healing the blind man/men (Mark 10.46-52, Mt 9.27-31, Mt 20.29-34, and Luke 18.35-43) are parallel to the story of Jesus and the sons of Zebedee.  In the “Gospel of Matthew” the story is doubled, with the second version about two blind men.  This increased its similarity to the story about the two Zebedees asking Jesus for more power and influence.  The author of the “Gospel of Matthew” appears to be making a specific literary reference to his disapproval of the Zebedees by likening them to two blind men.

A hypothesis that I plan to explore in greater detail is that a miraculous healing was actually a metaphor for the successful recruitment of an individual or group to the Jesus sect.

The two passages quoted below from the “Gospel of Mark” equate “sickness” with “sin” or unacceptable behavior.  In this case the sinners are tax collectors (Mark 2:15) and presumably other collaborators with the Roman occupation of Judea (See Luke 3:10-14 where John admonishes the well off, tax collectors (publicans) and soldiers (mercenaries drawing wages from the Romans)).

Mark 2:5: And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ”My son, your sins are forgiven.

Mark 2:17: And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ”Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When the “sinner” rejects his prior way of life and converts to the mind set promulgated by Jesus he is forgiven, and “cured” of his metaphorical diseases.

This essay only touches upon analyzing the relationships between the texts in the comparison table which are based on the Raising of Lazarus story.  The table suggests that there is a recursive or repetitive structure within the “Gospel of Mark”.  Variations of the same story are used over and over to create a set of seemingly independent miracle stories. These stories were assembled into a longer narrative consisting of cycles made up of the variations of the source story.

This is not the only example of creative recycling of a narrative in the “Gospel of Mark”.  The “Miracle of the Feeding the Multitude” is another example of a story found in the “Gospel of John” (John 6:1-4) that was presented in two different forms in the “Gospel of Mark”: (Mark 6:30-44 and Mark 8:1-9).  “The miraculous catch of fish” (Mark 1:16-20) may also belong to this set of stories and be related to the source of the fish in the very earliest version of the narrative.  “Calming the Storm” (Mark 4:35-41) and “Walking on Water” (Mark 6:45-52) is another example of a pair of Markan variations of a story found in the “Gospel of John” (John 6:16-21).

At least superficially, the narrative of the “Gospel of Mark” consists of a series of story cycles centered about miraculous healings or feedings.  These stories are literary variations of narratives found in the “Gospel of John”.  In some cases the stories have been altered almost beyond recognition and only through careful analysis can their common origin be recognized.  In many cases the story cycles seem to be framed by Jesus being followed by crowds and arriving or departing by boat.  The multiplication of stories found in the “Gospel of John”, within the text of the “Gospel of Mark”, suggest that the Johannine narratives predate the “Gospel of Mark”.

The fact that the “Secret Gospel of Mark” narrative belongs to this cluster of stories is consistent with it being an original Markan narrative rather than a modern forgery.

David Blocker

Ehrman versus Ehrman


In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman deals among other things with “complications in knowing the ‘original text’” of the New Testament. He takes Paul’s letter to the Galatians as one example. He then presents a number of problems in knowing what Paul actually meant to say. First, “Galatia was not a single town with a single church; it was a region in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in which Paul had established churches. When he writes to the Galatians, is he writing to one of the churches or to all of them?” Ehrman suggests that Paul wrote the letter for all of the churches. Ehrman continues:

“Suppose he made multiple copies. How did he do it? To begin with, it appears that this letter, like others by Paul, was not written by his hand but was dictated to a secretarial scribe. Evidence for this comes at the end of the letter, where Paul added a postscript in his own handwriting, so that the recipients would know that it was he who was responsible for the letter (a common technique for dictated letters in antiquity): ‘See with what large letters I am writing you with my own hand’ (Gal. 6:11). His handwriting, in other words, was larger and probably less professional in appearance than that of the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter.

“Now, if Paul dictated the letter, did he dictate it word for word? Or did he spell out the basic points and allow the scribe to fill in the rest? Both methods were commonly used by letter writers in antiquity. If the scribe filled in the rest, can we be assured that he filled it in exactly as Paul wanted? If not, do we actually have Paul’s words, or are they the words of some unknown scribe? But let’s suppose that Paul dictated the letter word for word. Is it possible that in some places the scribe wrote down the wrong words? Stranger things have happened. If so, then the autograph of the letter (i.e., the original) would already have a ‘mistake’ in it, so that all subsequent copies would not be of Paul’s words (in the places where his scribe got them wrong).

“Suppose, though, that the scribe got all the words 100 percent correct. If multiple copies of the letter went out, can we be sure that all the copies were also 100 percent correct? It is possible, at least, that even if they were all copied in Paul’s presence, a word or two here or there got changed in one or the other of the copies. If so, what if only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made—then in the first century, into the second century and the third century, and so on? In that case, the oldest copy that provided the basis for all subsequent copies of the letter was not exactly what Paul wrote, or wanted to write.

“Once the copy is in circulation—that is, once it arrives at its destination in one of the towns of Galatia—it, of course, gets copied, and mistakes get made. Sometimes scribes might intentionally change the text; sometimes accidents happen. These mistake-ridden copies get copied; and the mistake-ridden copies of the copies get copied; and so on, down the line. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the original copy (or each of the original copies) ends up getting lost, or worn out, or destroyed. At some point, it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is ‘correct,’ even if someone has the bright idea of doing so.

“What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonably complete copy we have of Galatians (this manuscript is fragmentary; i.e., it has a number of missing parts) is a papyrus called P 46 (since it was the forty-sixth New Testament papyrus to be catalogued), which dates to about 200 C.E. That’s approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being copied sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for fifteen decades before any copy was made that has survived down to the present day. We cannot reconstruct the copy from which P 46 was made. Was it an accurate copy? If so, how accurate? It surely had mistakes of some kind, as did the copy from which it was copied, and the copy from which that copy was copied, and so on.

“In short, it is a very complicated business talking about the ”original” text of Galatians. We don’t have it. The best we can do is get back to an early stage of its transmission, and simply hope that what we reconstruct about the copies made at that stage—based on the copies that happen to survive (in increasing numbers as we move into the Middle Ages)—reasonably reflects what Paul himself actually wrote, or at least what he intended to write when he dictated the letter.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, pp. 58–60; my emphases added)

Let us apply this same reasoning to what Ehrman says in Did Jesus Exist about the famous passage of 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16. Ehrman argues that the passage was indeed written by Paul and the real reason for suspecting this is that the passage is not missing in any single manuscript:

“For one thing, what is the hard evidence that the words were not in the letter of 1 Thessalonians as Paul wrote it? There is none. We do not of course have the original of l Thessalonians; we have only later copies made by scribes. But in not a single one of these manuscripts is the line (let alone the paragraph) missing. Every surviving manuscript includes it. If the passage was added sometime after the fall of Jerusalem, say, near the end of the first Christian century or even in the second, when Christians started blaming the fall of Jerusalem on the fact that the Jews had killed Jesus, why is it that none of the manuscripts of l Thessalonians that were copied before the insertion was made left any trace on the manuscript record? Why were the older copies not copied at all? I think there needs to be better evidence of a scribal insertion before we are certain that it happened. And recall, we are not talking about the entire paragraph but only the last line.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, pp. 123–124; my emphases added)

First we must assume that the same principle laid out for Paul’s letter to the Galatians also is true for his first letter to the Thessalonians. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman asks the obvious question; “what if only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made—then in the first century, into the second century and the third century, and so on?” And what if someone added something to that copy which in turn was copied? As Ehrman says, “[s]ometimes scribes might intentionally change the text” and “[t]hese mistake-ridden copies get copied; and the mistake-ridden copies of the copies get copied; and so on, down the line.” In fact “[s]omewhere in the midst of all this, the original copy (or each of the original copies) ends up getting lost, or worn out, or destroyed.”

Here Ehrman seemingly proposes that it could be that “only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made” and that the text of this copy might have been intentionally changed by the scribe so that we end up with a copy where the wording is changed and we “cannot reconstruct the copy from which” our preserved copy was made. We do not know if it was accurate. In fact Ehrman says in Misquoting Jesus that the “first reasonably complete copy we have of Galatians” is P 46 from c. 200 CE, although this manuscript is fragmentary. And this fragmentary manuscript does not include 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16.

So why would there then be such a big problem that “in not a single one of these manuscripts is the line (let alone the paragraph [of 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16]) missing”? Ehrman obviously thinks that it is possible that only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made and that this continued from the first century into the third century, and so on. He also thinks that both unintentional and deliberate changes were made and at least the unintentional were made every time a manuscript was copied, while the original copies eventually gets destroyed. He also concludes that the “first reasonably complete copy we have of Galatians” is from c. 200 and one of the gaps of that manuscript covers 1 Thessalonians 2:3–5:5, so we do not even know if 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 was part of that manuscript.

So why might only one copy of Paul’s letter to the Galatians has served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made, but not just one copy of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians? Did Ehrman mean that the alterations had to be made only to the first copy and if it was made say some 30 to 50 years later, there would be such an enormous amount of copies that some would survive and attest to different readings? He asks why the older copies were not copied. But if so, what is then the point of saying that scribes altered the text intentionally and this in several steps and that we “cannot  reconstruct the copy from which P 46 was made. It surely had mistakes of some kind, as did the copy from which it was copied, and the copy from which that copy was copied, and so on”? Why could not we simply compare it to all the correct readings which must have been preserved in all the other manuscripts copied from “the older copies”, as Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? suggests they would have been?

Roger Viklund, May 12, 2012

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