Jesus of Nazareth 8

Jesus of Nazareth HW 8
Paul Fischer
RLG 210

Historically, it seems, Jesus was a rural teacher who, like other religious leaders, went to Jerusalem with his followers. The uprising he caused there either forced a prefect terrified of revolt (or lost tax revenue) to execute him or at least “wash his hands of the matter.” Other, perhaps more influential, perhaps more contrary in doctrine, were generally dealt with harshly.

Such strict rules were necessary to keeping order on the frontier of the Roman Empire. Imperial garrisons in Judea and Israel were generally small, and usually kept out of the way of day-to-day governing. In the case of the man who marched his followers to Mount Gerizim (Antiquities 85), Pontius Pilate led Roman infantry to disperse them, and he executed many. The impact on Historical Jesus research is that now there is multiple sources that attest to not just Rome, but specifically Pilate’s willingness to use violence to  quell uprising. Because “Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential,” (An. 85) this passage causes the reader to wonder if other leaders in Jesus’ ministry were perhaps killed with him.
That the entire circle around a religious leader might be killed, or members of it killed arbitrarily means that fear for their lives would have been a better incentive for betrayal than 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:15). Or especially in the case of Peter, who three times forsake Jesus because he was terrified of the repercussions (Lk. 22). These minor insights afforded by the passages are overshadowed by the fact that Jesus’ ministry was considerably smaller than the other period movements in the same area. The Egyptian prophet led a force of thirty thousand and Thedeus threatened to invade Jerusalem with the divine power that brings walls down. Pilate executed over 300, as mentioned before; those were only the leaders, and indicate a much larger overall movement.
Thedeus (An. 20.97-8) is only briefly mentioned by Josephus, but his general path seems to parallel Jesus’ more closely than the others provided. He, apparently alone in his movement, was executed by Roman leaders after encouraging  followers to give up everything in order to follow him to the Jordan river. Like a stunted, unsuccessful story of Jesus, this does not appear to be militant and his power was sourced in miracles (though Thedeus never had the opportunity to show off).
All of these false prophet stories, whether from the Jewish History, or Josephus’ Antiquities, share aspects with the life of Christ, that can help us understand the people’s reaction to Jesus, and better orient ourselves contextually. However, it is very important to remember that the four Gospels are written by followers of Jesus, believers in the resurrection. Conversely, Josephus and Rabbinic scholars assembling the Jewish History would have downplayed the legitimacy of these uprisings. They had the goal of ensuring that Rome did not leave them to foreign invaders, and to do that they had to create a mindset for the populace of the Jews, accordingly. So one should be careful that when the title “charlatan” or false prophet is given, it isn’t necessarily the belief of Judaism as a whole, or even that writer, but just what that writer expected the Romans to need to hear in order to think Judea was worthwhile to the Empire.

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