Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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yakovzutolmai
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Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by yakovzutolmai »

I have been following some historicity arguments lately and they fall very flat. I just don't see the evidence. Scholarly assumptions about Christian history almost universally follow the template laid out in Acts of the Apostles. That work is highly suspect, and if we discard it we have nothing. Nothing. We have Paul, for example. He does name a few people in his epistles, but not all of them are authentic. We can pinpoint why Paul mimickers would, at a certain point in later history, namedrop certain names. Authentic Paul leaves us with very little to work with.

Then we have the synoptics, basically Mark. As far as I see it, the historicity of Jesus is impossible to work with because the content - let alone evidence - just isn't there. We just have no reliable text to give any context.

We have scholars making absurd arguments like Jesus led such a small and inconsequential movement that it went unnoticed until some followers later raised enough ruckus to maybe get a passing mention by Tacitus. If we accept the authenticity of that. Then we have shot in the dark theories that say things like the Samaritan Prophet must have been an inspiration for Jesus, and while not at all like him, is essentially our historical basis for the character.

One thing that boggles my mind is that we in fact do have a few historical figures, adjacent to Jesus, who reliably appear in history.

First, we have John the Baptist and Antipas. Well, John the Baptist is not historically reliable. Antipas is, and his history is very interesting. It does seem that Josephus is concealing some things about his activities in the 30s AD. Niko Kokkinos points out that the war with Aretas was most likely over Antipas's dismissal of Aretas's daughter, and that when it comes to Herodias, there really was no sin as her former husband was certainly dead. If there's anything salacious and missing from history it's that we have some evidence that possible two! brothers of Antipas were ruling in Palestine prior to 33, but afterwards only Antipas remained, married to Herodias whom Josephus and the Bible alternately identify as the former wife of either of the two ruling brothers formerly mentioned. Clearly something substantial happened that Josephus will not mention.

Nevertheless, no sign of Jesus, and probably not John. At least, there's no need for John in this history.

However, by 45 AD we have the following four! historical figures adjacent to the ministry of Theudas: Elionaeus Boethus (Lazarus) and Martha (Martha). We also have, after Theudas's death, a James and Simon hounded by Theudas's killer. Finally, we have Acts' curious treatment of both Judas the Galilean and Theudas. They are mentioned anachronistically, so the narrative is historically unreliable, however they are mentioned in conjunction with one another. Of course, after Theudas's death, James and Simon become persecuted as sons of Judas the Galilean. Again, a conjunction of narratives.

So, if we treat the family of Simon Cantheras Boethus as the Bethany household of the synoptic narrative, and if we view James and Simon as some sort of successors to Theudas - and imagine if actually these are James the Just and Simon Cephas of latter history in the 60s - then we have the historical basis of the gospel narrative adjacent to Theudas in the 40s AD.

As far as I can tell, there is no greater presence of Christian characters corroborated anywhere else in history. I have a much more detailed theory of what's going on with Theudas and the Boethusians, which I have related here on this forum, but it's immaterial.

Any scholar or historicist, in my opinion, has to tackle these characters. Any discussion of historicity that talks about the Pentacost and Paul's shipwreck and St. Stephen is moot. Any discussion of this itinerant, actual Nazarene Jesus from the 30s that was passed over at the time is laughable.

And no one talks about Lazarus, Martha, James and Simon. Good God! Here is our history. Not one scholarly treatment!

EDIT: I have to concede, in this framing Theudas could perhaps be a John the Baptist. And Jesus might be a different person, unmentioned in the histories at this time. Well, if that's so, then we have five characters. Lazarus, Martha, James, Simon and John the Baptizer. Either way, here is our historical Christian moment, in the mid to late 40s. Our Pilate is Tiberius Alexander of Philo's family which must be significant given his later role among the Flavians and in the Great Revolt.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by neilgodfrey »

I'll restrict my initial response here to Theudas.

Leave Acts aside since the Theudas there is most likely derived from Josephus. (Other passages in Luke-Acts point to Josephus as a source for other things so I think this is a reasonable bet.)

We only have one account of Theudas and that account is not independently corroborated. Moreover, Josephus portrays Theudas as a false prophet and we know Josephus had an ideological interest in blaming false prophets for much of the suffering of his people and for highlighting how superior he himself was as a genuine prophet.

Result: it may well be that Theudas was a historical figure since Josephus purports to be informing readers about his knowledge of the historical events that led to the war. But there is no way to test his claim about Theudas. And given the ideological context that enriches the point of his narrative, we cannot avoid a small element of reasonable doubt.

What is far more certain is Josephus's apparent belief that figures like his Theudas were extant in the decades preceding conflict with Rome.

What I think we can take away from Josephus here is that various prophetic figures arose and attracted followings. Unfortunately, I don't think that makes the Judeans very much different from other persons throughout the Pax Romana: we have evidence of priests and charlatans popping up all over the place.

What seems to be different in the case of Judea is the Roman reaction: I can't imagine the same reaction of a Roman governor taking the same violent action against a mob of Dionysiac worshipers all gathering together down at some brook outside a city. (Or maybe I'm out of touch with the relevant Roman laws.)

So I don't think Josephus's account of Theudas gets us very far with understanding the growth of Christianity but it does speak of tensions between the Judeans and Romans well before the outbreak of hostilities.

But our real question is about Christian origins.

Can I revisit what I think are the starting points for any historical reconstruction here?

Somehow I think we need to set aside entirely out of court the narrative outlines of both the gospels and Acts. We have good literary critical reasons, I think, for treating both as total fabrications so that it is misguided to try to find where a Theudas or related persons fit in those narratives as if they are built around some historical edifice.

Rather, if we start with where our sources find their earliest independent attestation we have to begin with the second century and work backwards.

The earliest accounts from that starting point are found in Aristides and Justin. (Have I overlooked some?) In their works we only learn that Christianity began after Jesus appeared to his twelve disciples (not eleven) who then went out preaching to the whole known world.

In other words, we have only a myth at the beginning of our search for historical origins.

This myth, if we follow our chronological line, was later elaborated with more detail (as myths and legends usually are over time) with richer detail to make it read like a second Aeneid, a voyage from an Asian city to reach a new centre in Rome.

Where the historical researcher needs to start, I suggest, is with an exploration of the origins of the thoughts of the likes of Aristides and Justin. From that beginning they will be commencing the journey from a more solid and verifiable position than by trying to begin by immersing themselves in mythical narratives.

In other words, the question is: What led early "fathers" to create the myths of history? It is not, "What historical person or shadow can we somehow loosely detect behind the myth of Aeneas or Jesus and Paul etc.

It is the same question a historian of Rome might ask about the origin of the myths of Aeneas followed by Romulus and Remus. To answer that question we look to when we first encounter the myths by independent attestation. We don't seek the answers by studying the journeys of Aeneas and looking for historical antecedents for various characters.
ABuddhist
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by ABuddhist »

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 12:33 am What is far more certain is Josephus's apparent belief that figures like his Theudas were extant in the decades preceding conflict with Rome.

What I think we can take away from Josephus here is that various prophetic figures arose and attracted followings.

[...]

What seems to be different in the case of Judea is the Roman reaction: I can't imagine the same reaction of a Roman governor taking the same violent action against a mob of Dionysiac worshipers all gathering together down at some brook outside a city. (Or maybe I'm out of touch with the relevant Roman laws.)
1. I would argue that a case could be made that Josephus did not believe what he claimed about prophets in Judaea during his times, but was instead presenting propaganda to save Judaean religion from stains of violence while justifying Roman imperial policies.

2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by neilgodfrey »

ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
Thanks for the reminders. Yes, my recollection is that the opposition to the Bacchanalia festivals came about because they were foreign (hence degenerating) influences in Republican Rome. I would expect no trouble with such festivals in their Greek homes.

As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by ABuddhist »

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:24 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
But druids also operated in Gaul. And as far as I recall, the primary justification for its suppression was Druidic human sacrifice - which seems to have been real, despite comparisons with Anti-Christian rhetoric.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by neilgodfrey »

ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 5:01 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:24 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
But druids also operated in Gaul. And as far as I recall, the primary justification for its suppression was Druidic human sacrifice - which seems to have been real, despite comparisons with Anti-Christian rhetoric.
Suppression wasn't part of Julius Caesar's conquests, was it?
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mlinssen
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by mlinssen »

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 6:43 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 5:01 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:24 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
But druids also operated in Gaul. And as far as I recall, the primary justification for its suppression was Druidic human sacrifice - which seems to have been real, despite comparisons with Anti-Christian rhetoric.
Suppression wasn't part of Julius Caesar's conquests, was it?
The quote above appears to be straight from Asterix and Obelix

https://www.asterix.com/en/welcome-to-t ... l-village/

“The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well not entirely! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…”

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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by neilgodfrey »

mlinssen wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 10:32 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 6:43 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 5:01 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:24 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
But druids also operated in Gaul. And as far as I recall, the primary justification for its suppression was Druidic human sacrifice - which seems to have been real, despite comparisons with Anti-Christian rhetoric.
Suppression wasn't part of Julius Caesar's conquests, was it?
The quote above appears to be straight from Asterix and Obelix

https://www.asterix.com/en/welcome-to-t ... l-village/

“The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well not entirely! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…”

Regrettably the reality was far more serious. Julius Caesar waged what by today's standards would be described as a genocidal war of mass slaughter against the Gauls.
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mlinssen
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by mlinssen »

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 11:23 pm
Regrettably the reality was far more serious. Julius Caesar waged what by today's standards would be described as a genocidal war of mass slaughter against the Gauls.
The druids triggered me LOL.
Regrettably, I have had to read substantial posts of De Bello Gallico in the original form. What a peasant he was
ABuddhist
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Re: Historicity's Problems And Theudas As Our Only Candidate; 4 Genuine Historical Identifications

Post by ABuddhist »

neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 6:43 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 5:01 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:24 pm
ABuddhist wrote: Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:51 pm 2. Off hand, I am aware of two Roman persecutions of unambiguously polytheistic religions: the suppression of unregulated Bacchanalia (dedicated to Dionysus) in 186 BCE, and the suppression of the druids during the 1st century CE.
As for the Druids, here is a parallel with Judea, yes? --- Both Brits and Judeans were chaffing under Roman occupation and the potential for rebellion was common to both?
But druids also operated in Gaul. And as far as I recall, the primary justification for its suppression was Druidic human sacrifice - which seems to have been real, despite comparisons with Anti-Christian rhetoric.
Suppression wasn't part of Julius Caesar's conquests, was it?
Not as far as I know - but my knowledge of this matter is very limited. I know, however, that one of Caesar's Gaullish allies was a Gaullic druid - Diviciacus, the only druid from antiquity whose name we know.
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