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New Essay: Josephus the Herodian
In Response To: The Ancestry of Josephus ()

I thought I was wrong about the Herodian family ties of Josephus, but I was mistaken (grin). So, now that the Herodian genealogy of Josephus is reasonably established (speak now or forever hold your piece), let's discuss the treatment of Josephus by Robert Eisenman in his book James Brother of Jesus.

I offer the following essay:

Josephus the Herodian

Robert Eisenman makes much of the claim of Josephus that he was given ninety-nine letters by Herod Agrippa II for use in preparing his histories (pp 796, 799). Returning the favor, Josephus writes favorably of Agrippa and also his father (Agrippa I), stating that he was of a gentle (chrestos) and compassionate nature (p 738). This statement appears to be mocking the Christians that were persecuted by the elder Agrippa. In other words, Josephus is suggesting that Agrippa was more Christian than Paul, the man who tried to convert Agrippa II in the Book of Acts, and who is denounced by Josephus as a royal rabble-rouser.

In the writings of Paul, greetings were sent by him to believers in the very household of Caesar (Nero), and most specifically to Pauls own beloved Apostle, Epaphroditus, whom Robert Eisenman concludes must be Neros personal secretary by that same name. He also concludes that it was this same Epaphroditus who later encouraged Josephus to write his histories and acted as publisher (see p 792). But is it really possible that the royal secretary Epaphroditus was the friend and supporter of Paul and also of Josephus, who was the unmitigated detractor of Paul? And if so, what might that tell us about these persons?

Paul died in the mid-sixties and Josephus wrote in the mid-nineties. However, in the early-sixties Josephus had made a remarkable trip to Rome in order to plead the case of Jewish priests who were being held there. Josephus claimed that he had been personally received by Poppea, the God-fearing wife of Nero. Not only did Josephus gain the release of his friends but a handsome gift from the queen. The 26-year old Josephus may have been introduced to Epaphroditus then. Certainly after the Jewish War, Josephus took up permanent residence in Rome and was the associate of Epaphroditus and other members of the new inner circle of power under the Flavians.

During the reign of Domitian, Epaphroditus was again royal secretary, but fell out of favor and was executed along with certain other secret Christians, some of which were close family relations of Domitian. This occurred about the time Josephus finished publishing his works. Because of this, Robert Eisenman thinks that Josephus may also have been put to death by Domitian. If so, he had even more in common with Epaphroditus, and ironically also with Paul/Saul.

Despite recognizing that Paul was a Herodian, and also noting the close relationship between Josephus and Agrippa II, Robert Eisenman does not entertain the idea that Josephus (much less James the brother of Jesus and Jesus himself) could also have been a Herodian like Agrippa and Saulus/Paul. For Eisenman, the status of Josephus derives from his Hasmonean blood only. But, by all indications the Hasmonean royal house was fully defunct except for those Herodians who could claim descent from the Hasmonean wife of Herod the Great, namely Mariamne. Herodians such as Agrippa who did have this Hasmonean blood would have been eager to mention it, and as a means of distinguishing themselves from those Herodians who did not. The father of Agrippa the Hasmonean-Herodian gained power by blowing the whistle on Herodians of non-Hasmonean descent (led by Herod Antipas) who were plotting war with Rome.

The inference that must be made is this: the prominence of Josephus (as evidenced by his affiliation with Agrippa II, his commission as a leading General in the Jewish Revolt, his change in loyalty to Vespatian, and his later pension in Rome) were not due to Hasmonean ancestry but being a Herodian with Hasmonean ancestry. Moreover, Josephus and Paul could both be Herodians and at the same time bitter rivals. And as such, it is not surprising that they competed for the favor of the same Roman high official, Epaphrodites, and ultimately to win the approval of Caesar himself. Likewise, both Josephus and Paul tried to remain in the good graces of Agrippa II. This kind of posturing was typical of a royal family, and especially one under the thumb of another superior royal family, that of Rome.

In his writings, Josephus asserts that the dynasty of Vespatian had been Gods anointed instrument for punishing wayward Jews, but that Romes power would some day also come to an end. The Book of Daniel, which was very important to Josephus, and very popular at that time among Jews in general, placed a definite limit on the rule of empires, including that of Rome. Even among Romans it was widely believed that the empire was already in a state of severe decline with respect to the days of the Republic and that they could not expect Fortune to shine on them forever. Nevertheless, that would not have been the image Domitian wanted to foster.

The writings of Paul were perhaps even more subtle than those of Josephus in their expectation of regime change. On the surface, the coming Messiah was expressed in vague terms. To Roman readers, the Christian Messiah could be Roman, and according to Josephus had already come in the person of Vespatian. But for learned Jews there was an altogether different meaning. In the Book of Romans, Paul borrows extensively from the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon. Although not spelled out by Paul, this work prophesies the end of earthly kingdoms in a time associated with the defeat of death and return of martyred righteous. (N.T. Wright, Paul, p 69) Consistent with this, Pauls Gospel proclaims that the sting of death had been defeated and that all true believers would rise again to glory. Paul, like Josephus, did not think Rome could be overthrown by conventional means. The only hope was from righteous living and the magical power of invoking prophesy.

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