Lena Einhorn on the Claudian Christ Theory

Editor, physician and documentarian Lena Einhorn has written a book, A Shift in Time, arguing a new theory of the historical Jesus: that he actually was a violent rebel from the era of Claudius, who was later whitewashed into a pacifist from the era of Tiberius. My brief review here will cover her argument, its merits and problems, and what this tells us about the methods we need to deploy in studying this question.

Normally I wouldn’t bother with another amateur treatise on this subject. And in fact, please don’t send me yours. As a rule, I have no interest in such works. I barely have interest in expert treatises on the subject, as there are hundreds, all contradicting each other, and they tediously just reflect what each historian wants to be true rather than what is (just peruse James Crossley’s Jesus in an Age of Terror and Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism, Mark Powell’s Jesus as a Figure in History, or Craig Evans’s Fabricating Jesus). There is no coherent or reliable methodology being deployed in Jesus studies. As John Dominic Crossan wrote in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Jesus scholarship is often “a disguise to do theology and call it history, do autobiography and call it biography, do Christian apologetics and call it academic scholarship.” Ironically. Because Crossan then proceeded to do exactly the same thing himself. As Donald Denton wrote of him, “it is frequently suspected that in his portrait of Jesus Crossan is…actually seeing his own face at the bottom of a deep well,” attempting to recreate the historical Jesus into a form that would resonate with Crossan’s own politics, and aid his dreams for a reformed Christianity better suited to modern times (Historiography & Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies, p. 11).

So, in short, even most expert work on Jesus is eye-rolling confabulation not worth the reading. Amateur work is only worse. The paradigmatic garbage of the genre is Joseph Atwill’s. There are very few exceptions. Earl Doherty is one. Even though I think he is wrong about a lot, he is also right about a lot, and mostly applies a careful and competent method, and he knows what he’s talking about. Lena Einhorn now joins this list. I would have not bothered, but for the fact that a preliminary look at an advance paper from which the book was crafted told me she does her homework, knows what she’s talking about, and applies adequate caution (even if her conclusions are overstated in the end, they are stated more cautiously as she proceeds). Indeed, she presented her preliminary paper at the Society for Biblical Literature and reviews from experts were not dismissive. I concur with Neil Godfrey that her argument is an interesting possibility that ultimately does not rise to a high enough probability to credit as likely. But that’s true of pretty nearly every single theory of historicity throughout the Jesus studies establishment. So she’s in good company.

My overall objection to her paper’s thesis matches my overall conclusion regarding her book, which aims to extend the same thesis more broadly. In her paper she argued that Jesus of Nazareth is actually The Egyptian in the narrative of Josephus (see OHJ, p. 70), and that the Gospel authors were just erasing the militaristic aspects of the truth of their would-be savior and relocating him in time to conceal that fact. Neat idea. And not implausible. But the similarities between Jesus and The Egyptian are too few and too generic to be that telling, and in fact they sooner suggest the Gospel authors were just borrowing “modern” ideas with which to construct their stories of Jesus.

Just as they lifted the story of Jesus ben Ananias, from the era of Nero, to fabricate a plot for their Jesus ben Joseph (OHJ, pp. 428-30), they may well have done the same for The Egyptian, and indeed may have borrowed from all the Josephan Christs to build their mosaic (all of whom were portraying themselves as a Jesus Christ, i.e. a messianic Joshua reborn: OHJ, pp. 67-73, 245-46). That does not in any way mean Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus ben Ananias, and thus actually lived under Nero. He very certainly is not, and did not. Nor, therefore, can it mean he “is” The Egyptian, if he was built out of him, too. Rather, the stories that accumulated from famous Jesuses and other prophets in the three decades between when the sect began its new gospel in the 30s and the Jewish War of the 60s were simply thrown in a hamper and drawn from, collectively, when finally there came the thought of building the mythical Jesus of the Gospels. The tendency to use the more recent memories of the times more frequently in constructing that narrative would explain all the other evidence Einhorn amasses.

This in fact better explains why the chronology of the Gospels is so incoherent.

Einhorn’s book’s central thesis is that when you gather up all the datable references and events in the Gospels and Acts, there appears to be an abiding incoherence between a collection of facts from the 30s and 40s A.D. (like the presence of Pilate and Caiaphas and John the Baptist and Herod Agrippa I) and a collection of facts from the 50’s and 60’s A.D. (which she enumerates chapter by chapter). Her conclusion is that Christianity actually began (and Jesus actually lived) in the 50’s AD., and that the Gospels conceal this by trying to relocate it to the 30’s A.D. in order to hide certain uncomfortable political truths about what actually happened. But they couldn’t fix everything, so the original chronology is still there, under the veneer of the fake one.

Such is her thesis. But this does not take into account the best alternative theory, and methodologically it is not logically possible to argue for a hypothesis in isolation from competing hypotheses. The probability of a hypothesis being true is always relative to its best competitors. Hypotheses therefore must be compared. (See my article, If You Learn Nothing Else, point 1.)

The best competing hypothesis is simply: the Gospel authors are making Jesus up. That is, there was no historical Jesus. He didn’t walk anywhere or do anything on earth (in belief there was still a historical Jesus, undergoing historical events in outer space according to ancient cosmology, but not as a part of human history, which is the Doherty Thesis, and the thesis of my book On the Historicity of Jesus). So he didn’t “actually” or “originally” belong to any decade of history. And indeed, there were Christians dating him even to the 70’s B.C., so variable could they be with where to put him (OHJ, Ch. 8.1). So when the Gospel authors created a historical Jesus out of other heroes and prophets (from Moses to Elijah to Jesus ben Ananias and, we may even suppose, John the Baptist), they were not particularly concerned with chronological precision. They saw the whole period from the 30s to the 60s as simply one and the same time, and borrowed from all those decades whatever resonated for them the most. And for this they all drew on Josephus (particularly Mark on the Jewish War and Luke on the Jewish Antiquities), who is also Einhorn’s only source for comparison, thus explaining all the convenient agreements. The end result would be exactly the same evidence Einhorn points to.

So in the end, Einhorn’s theory does not achieve probability. There isn’t any evidence that can tip in favor of it over any alternative. And that’s even if we assume Jesus existed at all. If, as I find in OHJ, he probably didn’t, we have a much better theory than hers to explain all this weird inconsistency in the evidence. Ultimately, her theory is not impossible. It’s not absurd. But it’s not likely enough to be true. At least on the scant and problematic evidence we now have. But again, to put this result in context, I would aver that her theory of historicity stands on much better evidence, and is far more probable, than Bruce Chilton’s (see OHJ, pp. 24-25), and he’s a well-respected and fully-fledged expert in Jesus studies.

Unlike Atwill, Einhorn is well-informed, careful in demarcating evidence from conjecture, is modest in her conclusions, openly admits uncertainty, has a good grasp of the cultural and political context she is talking about, and has a fair enough understanding of the relevant linguistic issues—even though she is not expert in the languages, she relies competently on available English-language tools. Like many a historian, where she goes wrong, as I already mentioned, is in failing to compare her thesis against others in respect to explanatory power. Also like many a historian, she cherry-picks the evidence her thesis explains well, and does not address evidence it doesn’t (such as assimilating events not just in the 30s and 50s, but even in the 60s and 40s, and before the 30s, as if they all happened in the 30s, thus not singling out any one decade; or the absence of any historical Jesus in the letters of Paul—though she has another thesis about that in another book, The Jesus Mystery, wherein she argues Paul is Jesus, that’s so wildly implausible I won’t even bother addressing it).

Einhorn also brings into evidence a lot of interesting facts, and writes well, so by and large her book is a good and edifying read. Even if ultimately these facts don’t entail much, they are still educational, and as best I could tell she is usually accurate in what she presents. She also, again, tends to do a good job distinguishing facts she ascertained from the scholarship and her own opinions or conclusions—unlike many other amateur writers in this genre. But she also sometimes slips into incoherence (I could not make sense of the logic of her chapter on “enigma six,” pp. 77-84) or is overly dismissive of a sound historical consensus—such as doubting that Josephus routinely identifies past high priests as retaining the title, being in effect high priest emeritus (the same way in the U.S. we still call ex-presidents Mr. President). This is no great mystery, nor a chronological confusion. Josephus even says at times that several high priests would work together, even though only one actually held the appointment (not knowing this similarly led astray the much less competent Tim O’Neill; and because of this even Einhorn at one point also confuses the younger and elder Ananus—though to be fair, the authors of the Gospels may have as well). But at least she acknowledges the dominant position and makes clear she is dissenting from it and why.

A related example of the same methodological defect (of not entertaining alternative theories) occurs when Einhorn makes too much of the fact that Matthew puts Jesus in Egypt—something no other Gospel does, not even Luke (in fact Luke effectively says Jesus never left Judea). In far more probable fact, Matthew did that to assimilate Jesus mythically with Moses, as nearly the entire biblical studies establishment would agree. It’s therefore not a clue to Jesus being The Egyptian. But what her argument here reflects, as well as many other arguments she makes (such as when she makes much of material added in John that’s missing from the Synoptics), is a common amateur mistake: assuming the Gospels are a coordinated harmony of stories.

In fact, the Gospels are arguments against each other. When Luke has Jesus stay in Judea and not go to Egypt like Matthew does, Luke is arguing against Matthew. It’s not as if Luke just forgot to mention that or assumed his readers had read Matthew and knew that part of the story so he didn’t have to repeat it. To the contrary, Luke is refuting it, by changing the story. Similarly, when John invents Lazarus, he does so to refute Luke’s parable of Lazarus, a parable that never existed before Luke wrote it down (see OHJ, pp. 502-05). When we recognize that what’s in the Gospels is made up, theories like Einhorn’s begin to dissolve. And Jesus studies has made a lot of progress in identifying how the Gospels fabricate their accounts (even if many in the field still refuse to accept such obvious conclusions), such as Matthew’s penchant for assimilating Jesus to Moses even more thoroughly than Mark did. When you eliminate these fabrications, there isn’t really much left in the Gospels to assess as history (see Ch. 10 of OHJ).

Similarly, Einhorn tries to pile up “arguments from amazing coincidence” a bit too much without a disciplined way of ascertaining if the coincidences she sees are actually all that unlikely. I discuss the methodology of this, and the need for more discipline in deploying it lest it just become so much tea leaf reading, in Proving History (pp. 192-204). Atwill went insane with this kind of absurdity. Einhorn at least admits the speculative and tentative nature of what she is seeing. But there are just too many instances where the things she sees are not unlikely enough to indicate support for her thesis. And not only because “borrowing from Josephus” explains them all and is just as likely on the theory the Gospels are making everything up—even the thesis that something was borrowed from or correlates with Josephus at all is often under-motivated by her evidence (as when assimilating Jesus to Moses already explains all the evidence she adduces; and we already know for a fact the Gospel authors were wont to assimilate Jesus to Moses, so precedent is already against the novelty of her thesis, therefore requiring more definite evidence for her conclusion than she has).

In conclusion, Einhorn exhibits a lot of good methodological principles most amateurs, and even many experts, don’t consistently employ. But she also exhibits some methodological failings, albeit again the same ones we can often find even in the expert literature. Her thesis is at least as well-argued and respectable as most expert alternatives proposed and defended in the field of Jesus studies. That she is wrong is no more to her discredit than the fact that they all must be wrong as well—after all, they all contradict each other, so all but one of them must be as incorrect as Einhorn, and maybe not even one. With the methodological correctives I elucidate above, amateurs, and even some experts, can benefit from her book as a model of both how and how not to argue.

I would only add that most of Einhorn’s argument is speculation; and gets more speculative as the book progresses. And I don’t like people confusing speculation for conclusions. What’s possible is not the same as what’s probable. If we don’t know, we don’t know. I think most of Jesus studies needs to learn that lesson. But because they haven’t, they can’t criticize Einhorn for the same folly. Her thesis thus warrants the same expert attention as any other theory the academy deems respectable.

4 comments

  1. Hi Richard, and thanks for a very thoughtful and respectful review of my book A Shift in Time. Normally, one should not comment on a review of one’s work, but as you write in your blog that “the only comments that will be published at this site are comments submitted by my Patreon subscribers and by anyone who or whose work I discuss in the article commented on” I was inspired to reflect, and raise some questions:

    In your review, you write that your main objection to my thesis is that it “does not take into account the best alternative theory, and methodologically it is not logically possible to argue for a hypothesis in isolation from competing hypotheses.” This is a valid point, one should always look at alternative explanations for one’s findings. I can’t help noting, however, that despite your very generous comments about my method and grasp of the material, you actually do not critically dissect my hypothesis (except in a few sentences regarding enigma no. 6, on the two high-priests). I feel that the hypothesis itself is largely left unexplored in your review – perhaps for lack of space in a brief text.

    As my book and paper, up until now, mainly have been discussed by mythicists, or those sympathetic to mythicist views (probably since mythicists – just like I do – present alternative explanations to those generally backed by mainstream biblical scholars), I feel it is appropriate to briefly discuss my hypothesis in relation to mythicist thinking. In fact, the time shift hypothesis, strictly speaking, lies at the other end of the spectrum of historical Jesus theories than mythicism does (and this is perhaps why, despite the willingness to discuss the theory among mythicists, there is a reluctance to embrace it). Not only does the time shift theory suggest that Jesus really existed, in the flesh, it also suggests that his life and movement is described in detail also outside the New Testament texts; i.e. it suggests there is corroborating evidence for his existence. One cannot get much further from mythicism than that (which is why I am impressed and humbled by the willingness to discuss it in this arena).

    So why not “take into account the best alternative theory”, as you suggest (and you specify, by writing: “The best competing hypothesis is simply: the Gospel authors are making Jesus up”)? Well, first of all, I would like to point out, that I have a whole chapter in my book, entitled “Possible arguments against a time shift”, where I bring up all the possible arguments I can think of that could scuttle the hypothesis, and I discuss these. This approach – challenging one’s own theory by testing its falsifiability or refutability – is generally (in line with the thinking of Karl Popper) the way a hypothesis should be properly tested. Now there are always – and very much so in the case of the historical Jesus – alternative hypotheses. The problem in comparing a hypothesis such as mine (“Jesus existed, albeit in another time, and this is the evidence”) with one suggesting he never existed, is that the latter is built largely on Evidence of absence. What I do in my book is line up evidence for his presence in the 50s (and for the New Testament as a historical text of the Jewish rebellion, lying hidden underneath a literary/devotional/supernatural narrative). It would have been a somewhat knotty exercise for me to challenge Evidence of presence with Evidence of absence (“what I just showed you never existed”).

    Interestingly, however, both my conclusions and those of mythicists are sparked by the same thing: the dearth of historical evidence for Jesus existence, outside the New Testament texts. Despite the fact that first century Judea and Galilee are very well covered by Roman and Jewish historians (Josephus in particular), and despite the fact that Jesus in the Gospels is portrayed as someone with a large following, and one whose trial involved both high priests in Jerusalem, as well as the Jewish ruler of Galilee, and the Roman ruler of Iudaea, nothing of this is visible in non-biblical historical narratives of the 30s CE.

    The traditional conclusion has been that Jesus must have been much less known in his own time than the Gospels suggest. The alternative explanation has been that he never existed at all.

    These are reasonable conclusions, they make sense. If you can’t find him – despite volumes of text covering the era – it is logical to come to the conclusion that he never existed. Or that he was highly unknown.

    But what if the evidence for his presence is there?

    No, the time shift theory is not built only on the numerous similarities between Jesus and the messianic leader Josephus calls “the Egyptian” (the large following, the prophecy of the tearing down of the walls of Jerusalem, the betrayal to the authorities, the violent reaction of the authorities, the pivotal events on the Mount of Olives, previous time spent in Egypt, and in the wilderness). It is built on a slew of additional parallels between the Gospels and Acts, on the one hand, and events Josephus places in the 40s and 50s CE:

    *The activity of robbers, lestai

    *Known crucifixions of Jews

    *An insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19)

    *A messianic leader gathering people on the Jordan river, who is subsequently decapitated by the authorities

    *An attack on a man named Stephanos (Stephen) on a road outside Jerusalem

    *Two co-reigning high priests

    *A conflict or war between Galileans and Samaritans, limited in time

    *Galileans on their way to Jerusalem for the festivals being stopped in a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56)

    *A conflict between the Roman procurator and the Jewish king (Luke 23:12)

    *A Jewish king with a prominent and influential wife (Matthew 27:19)

    *A procurator slaughtering Galileans (Luke 13:1)

    *A procurator and a Jewish king sharing jurisdiction over Galilee (Luke 23:6-7)

    *Likely noms de guerre such as “the Zealot”, “Boanerges”, “Bariona”, or “Iscariot”

    *The death of Theudas (Acts 5:36)

    *A messianic leader who had previously spent time in Egypt, and in the wilderness, who prophesies about tearing down the walls of Jerusalem, and who is defeated by the authorities on the Mount of Olives

    Graphic showing what Lena Einhorn just explained, placing events in the New Testament and Josephus on a timeline by decade, in connection with defeats on the amount of Olives.

    In contrast, if one looks at actions, and not only at proper names, not a single parallel between Josephus and the NT is found in the 20s and 30s – when Jesus, according to the Gospels, was active. Not only is Jesus himself, and Christianity, missing in Josephus’s account of this period (barring the TF), there is actually a total lack of general historical congruence between the two sources! The only agreement are the common names of dignitaries (the very names which allow us to date the NT narratives). But these dignitaries don’t do the same things, nor does anyone else. The 20s and 30s are – not only according to Tacitus, but also according to Josephus – a period when no robbers, no crucifixions, and no Jewish messianic leaders are reported. To name only a few discrepancies.

    But most of it is there in the late 40s and 50s.

    Graphic by Lena Einhorn showing the frequency of mentions if robbers in Josephus, by decade, as she just explained.

    As I pointed out above, however, although all the parallels I have described in my book, between Josephus and the NT, involve the Jewish rebellion (hinted at only in subtext in the NT), they are not all limited to the period of Theudas and “the Egyptian” (ca. 44-56 CE). I have found what appear to be parallels to the Jewish war (66-73 CE), and also to the tax census of Quirinius (6 CE), which, according to Josephus, sparked the birth of the Jewish rebel movement, and according to Luke, involved the birth of Jesus.

    The New Testament seems to be written on two levels – one overt, one hidden. And whereas the subtext is all history – of the rebellion, of the messianic leaders of that rebellion – the overt story is a literary, sometimes supernatural, narrative, full of mythical allusions, and references to the Old Testament. This, I would suggest, is the reason why it is so easy to perceive the New Testament narrative as largely a mythical one.

    Again, thank you for giving my book such serious thought, and I hope we can continue having a fruitful discussion.
    Lena

    Reply
    1. Thank you. This is useful for my readers, who might want to get a more detailed peak at how you argue and with what facts. This is indeed just a tip of the iceberg of details you analyze in the book. So readers who want to really explore the merits of this, definitely should get the book.

      I would simply state that readers who do that, should take the general points I make in mind as they evaluate the book.

      For example, you list as details supporting the thesis that “A procurator and a Jewish king sharing jurisdiction over Galilee (Luke 23:6-7),” but Luke is there specifically and explicitly describing events decades after the death of the Jesus he claims to depict. That it is set in an era decades later is therefore already expected without your hypothesis. It therefore does not add any probability to your hypothesis. This is a common fallacy even expert historians repeatedly succumb to: compatibility with your hypothesis does not constitute evidence for your hypothesis.

      Similarly, the connections with Egypt are already 100% expected if your hypothesis is false (as Jesus was repeatedly being assimilated to Moses); therefore there can be no likelihood ratio generated from this that supports your hypothesis (and I mean supports as in increases the probability of, rather than is predicted by your hypothesis; because when two hypotheses equally predict an observation, that observation argues in favor of neither).

      Likewise the felling of the walls, which is 100% expected on the thesis, already well established as true, that the Gospels are (in part) commenting on the actual recent fate of those walls. So, again, your hypothesis is not more supported by this detail than the alternative theory already established and in evidence.

      And likewise again, the “absence” of crucifixions in the 30s AD important enough for Josephus to mention cannot be explained by your hypothesis, because we already know the probability that there were crucifixions under Pilate is as near 100% certain as makes all odds; that Josephus didn’t care about any of them cannot be explained by what Christians thought or were doing. Again, that Jesus was a relative nobody (or didn’t exist) is just as good an explanation of this Josephan disinterest. So this evidence does not increase the probability of your hypothesis over those alternatives.

      And so on.

      This is vexing I know. It’s the reason we can’t know most of what we want to know about the ancient world. The evidence equally supports dozens of contradictory theories of what happened. The consequence is simply: we cannot know any of those hypotheses is more true than the others. And that’s where it ends. We are uncomfortable with that uncertainty, because the human brain is uncomfortable with uncertainty. But uncertain we must be.

      If that were all there were to it, then your theory would share equal probability with a hundred other theories, including the ones that explain everything by hypothesizing that Jesus lived, and Christianity began, in the 70s BC (a theory that explains several unusual details in the letters of Paul, for example; as well as evidence that there actually were actual Christians who taught this, and that their doctrines were closer to the original sect preceding Paul). Or the more standard varieties of the Zealot hypothesis. And so on. And that would leave us with simply not knowing.

      I do believe, of course, that that’s not all there is. We have evidence for the fabrication hypothesis. And that theory explains all your evidence equally well, as well as evidence your theory struggles harder to explain, as well as yet more evidence your theory is compatible with but does not predict and thus does not explain.

      So I think in the end, your theory shares roughly the same probability of being true perhaps as the standard Zealot hypothesis or the 70s BC hypothesis. But that means it’s no more likely than they are. While I think the evidence renders another theory even more probable than all of those: that Jesus was a person only known mystically, and whose biography was in fact entirely made up.

      But anyone who really wants to examine the evidence to see, I welcome them doing so. And your book contains as good a theory to compare with almost any other in the field.

  2. But if this is all based on later knowledge of events, why would the Gospel authors put these events in the wrong era?

    Why would they write of an an insurrection in the 30s, when there was no Jewish insurrection in the 30s, and Tacitus furthermore states that under Tiberius all was quiet?

    Why would they describe the activity and crucifixion of robbers in the 30s, when Josephus doesn’t mention robbers even once between 6 and 44 CE?

    Why would they say that Theudas is already dead in the 30s, when he died 44-46 CE?

    Why would they speak of Pilate slaughtering Galileans, when he wasn’t even the ruler of Galilee?

    Why would the disciples have names like ”Bariona”, ”Boanerges” and ”the Zealot” in the quiet 30s? Why would they even have such names if their religious faction, as the Gospels suggest, was a peaceful one?

    Why would the New Testament describe relations between Jews and Samaritans as belligerent under Pilate, but not later, in Acts – when in fact the overt conflict between Jews and Samaritans was in 48 to 52 CE, i.e. a period covered by Acts.

    Simply put: The Gospel authors describe events that seem to depict the 40s and 50s, and yet they say that they are describing the 30s. Why would they make such simple mistakes, if they have the luxury of looking through a rear view mirror?

    It is furthermore remarkable, that this later period – the 40s and 50s – has two, and only two, messianic leaders named by Josephus:

    The first one (active 44-46) amassed his followers by the river Jordan, but was later captured and decapitated by the authorities.

    The second one (active 55-56) spent time in Egypt and in the wilderness, then came to Jerusalem, where he preached to his followers on the Mount of Olives, and said that the walls of Jerusalem would be torn down. But he was betrayed and defeated on this Mount of Olives.

    They are Theudas and the Egyptian.

    Reply
    1. Remember, you have to compare your theory with the best alternatives. So try comparing it to my alternative: that they are just making it all up. Here we go…

      “Why would the Gospel authors put these events in the wrong era?” Because they are neither writing history nor care about being so exact.

      They want the allusions, and at most they want the veneer of seeming or sounding true; they aren’t trying to craft accurate history. They aren’t doing meticulous research. The allegory and the literary models matter more. Because there is no history they are drawing on. They have a completely different agenda.

      Hence, they model their Jesus after Jesus Ben Ananias who lived and died in the 60s. Not because they think their Jesus lived and died in the 60s, but because they liked the model, it fit the whole zeitgeist of the era they wanted to sell, and it could be sold as having happened in the 30s because no one among their readers is so expert in history that they would even know the difference (and indeed, the authors themselves may not have known or noticed the difference), e.g. they know zealots and prophets were flourishing from since the census in 6 AD up to the war, and so most people just imagined that whole time as a burning age of those things; minute distinctions about which decades certain activities waxed or waned would hardly even be in memory of those who lived then, because they would conflate it all as “those times,” much less would these minutiae be known to people who didn’t live then, as most by far of the Evangelists’ readers/hearers didn’t. That’s why Acts can completely confuse entirely different decades from the first to the sixth in a single sentence.

      This is especially obvious in Acs, in fact, where the author has deliberately fucked with the entirety of historical dates of events specifically to disguise the fact that he is rewriting the actual history of what happened as reported in Paul. So, for example, he erases three years of Paul’s life (his mission to Arabia); he relocates the death of James to the same visit Paul describes in Galatians 2, even though Paul there says James was still alive years after that; etc.

      Having James killed by the infamous Agrippa (the one who immediately died in an awesome God’s-wrath kind of way) instead of the one he was probably actually killed by (the one who lived happily to a ripe old age rather than dying by purported divine vengeance) simply made a better story. Luke doesn’t care at all about the chronological inaccuracy this creates. He doesn’t in fact really care about chronology at all. Except insofar as it serves his agenda, and as such, only the chronology he invents matters to him, not the reality of what actually happened when. To the contrary, the reality of what actually happened when often gets in the way of the story he wants to sell (hence he can’t have Paul in Arabia for three years before ever meeting James and Peter; he can’t have James killed by the boring Agrippa who gets away with it; and so on).

      “Why would they write of an an insurrection in the 30s, when there was no Jewish insurrection in the 30s, and Tacitus furthermore states that under Tiberius all was quiet?” Because they don’t care. Just as Luke doesn’t care that Theudas didn’t precede Judas. The whole era in the run up to the war was just known as an era on fire. So their fiction works for effect. Just as no one would really be able to say “there was no Jesus in Galilee then” no one would really be able to say “there were no insurrections then” or even “Judas came decades before Theudas.” Because neither these writers nor their readers are actually historians or schooled in history. And because it’s almost impossible to prove a negative.

      Again, this is why they can make Jesus match a guy who died in the 60s, and relocate it to the 30s. They just don’t care about that specific anachronism. They want the better story. And there just is no difference between making Jesus just like Jesus Ben Ananias and making that same Jesus just like The Egyptian. The fact that those other two men didn’t even live in the same decade is irrelevant. And for the same exact reason the fact that neither lived in the 30s is irrelevant.

      And the fact that their Jesus was assimilated to both (as well as to Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, etc.) means that just as we can’t argue Jesus secretly actually “was” Jesus Ben Ananias, we can’t argue Jesus secretly “was” The Egyptian. They are borrowing models from all of the era from every decade and packing them into the story they want to tell. And they can do that because the story they are telling never happened. Not in any era or decade at all.

      “Why would the disciples have names like ”Bariona”, ”Boanerges” and ”the Zealot” in the quiet 30s?” Because, for example, zealot actually just means zealous, I.e. pious. When Paul calls himself a zealot (Gal. 1:14; sim. Phil. 3:6), he does not mean the rebel faction, he just means zealot as a generic term of zeal.

      Which is why the zealots called themselves that, not because it was a unique name, but precisely because it was a common virtue people ascribed to themselves when they claimed to be maximally pious. Al Qaeda similarly just means “The Foundation,” essentially The Fundamentalists. If someone else calls themselves a fundamentalist, it does not automatically mean they are a part of Al Qaeda, or even Muslims. It’s just a common word that denotes a religious virtue certain people like to associate themselves with.

      Similarly for other epithets (e.g. Bar-Iona more directly just means Son of Jonah, symbol of resurrection, and Matthew conspicuously alone calls Simon this and first equates the resurrection with the Jonah tale; or even Son of the Dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit; etc.). This is the problem I keep trying to explain: there are already established alternative theories in the peer reviewed literature as to why certain names were chosen by the Evangelists–and why they are sometimes unique to one Gospel and not found in the others: evidence each author is choosing and thus inventing the name, not inheriting it from a tradition. So we can’t just automatically declare our one explanation as better than the others. It’s at best no more likely.

      “Simply put: The Gospel authors describe events that seem to depict the 40s and 50s, …” And also the 60s and the 40s and the 30s (e.g. the fate of John the Baptist) and the first decade of the century. They stole from nearly every decade of the first century before the War (and possibly even allude to events in the 70s, if Mark’s Gadarene Swine is an allusion to the Cyrenaean rebellion). And they stole the most from the decades with the most material to steal from that pertained to the morals and ideas they wanted to promote. That’s statistically inevitable. If they randomly took an average of 10% of the pertinent ideas from each decade, and one decade has twenty things to take and another has ten, you will end up with twice as many lifts from that first decade simply because of math, not because any actual historical connection with that decade.

      “Why would they make such simple mistakes, if they have the luxury of looking through a rear view mirror?” Since they aren’t writing history, there aren’t any “mistakes” they can make really. They can confuse historical periods all they want. Because it isn’t true. And indeed they make tons of “mistakes” (in chronology, geography, customs, etc.). They just aren’t mistakes to them. Because the story is about something else.

      It’s not as if Mark really thought Jesus miraculously withered a fig tree in 30 AD for the inexplicable crime of not bearing figs out of season (see my discussion in OHJ, Ch. 10.4, drawing on the peer reviewed literature on this episode). Mark knows full well that never happened. Not in any decade. He might want outsiders to think he’s claiming it did, so they’ll miss the real point (just as he explains he is doing, using Jesus as his mouthpiece, in Mark 4). But insiders would be told it was just an allegory, representing a higher meaning. It’s not describing a historical event. And when you are writing like that, “getting history right” simply isn’t even relevant. It’s only useful up to a point (they don’t want to make it too obvious, because, as Jesus says, outsiders do need to be fooled; and even if outsiders harp on bad chronology, that’s the same effect they want, because it’s continuing to focus on the story as if it’s supposed to be literally true, but it still has to look like a mistake and not a deliberate conflation). Otherwise, in fact, the actual historical chronology often gets in the way of a good story. And what they want above all is the good story.

      So you should in fact expect them not to get it consistently right. And lo and behold, they don’t. Even Luke, the only author to pretend to be an actual Greco-style historian, gets all kinds of chronology wrong, and does so in cases exhibiting he was sloppy, and in others exhibiting he is deliberately fucking wth history. He wants his books to “look like” history, but isn’t actually trying very hard to “get it right” as history, because nothing he is writing is history. It’s all fiction. He gets it right only where it’s super easy or he cares to trouble to, and gets it wrong when he needs to or doesn’t care. Indeed, he even gets wrong his own stories! (Having Jesus ascend to heaven the day of his resurrection at the end of Luke, then immediately contradicting himself in the first chapter of Acts by having him stay almost two months first.) This is not the behavior of someone keen on being exactly right about anything.

      “It is furthermore remarkable, that this later period – the 40s and 50s – has two, and only two, messianic leaders named by Josephus.” That’s not remarkable. Since Luke is using Josephus, obviously he’s going to name only the people Josephus did, that suit the analogy Luke wants to create. In fact, that’s why we know Luke is using Josephus! Luke did not get these details from Christian tradition. They are in no respect Christian tradition (they appear nowhere by name in any prior Gospel, or in John, nor Paul). They are lifts from Josephus. They had no prior connection with Christian history before Luke invented Christian history.

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