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Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin (cont.)
By Flavio Barbiero

Josephus Flavius and St. Paul

The arguments used by Josephus Flavius to justify his own betrayal and that of his brethren seem to echo the words of St. Paul. The two seem to be perfectly in agreement with regard to their attitude toward the Roman world. Paul, for example, considered it his task to free the church of Jesus from the narrowness of Judaism and from the land of Judaea and to make it universal, linking it to Rome. They are also in agreement on other significant points: for example, both of them declare their belief in the doctrines of the Pharisees, which were those that were wholly received by the Roman church.

There are sufficient historical indications to lead us to consider it certain that the two knew each other and were linked by a strong friendship. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that after reaching Jerusalem, Paul was brought before the high priests and the Sanhedrin to be judged (Acts 22:30). He defended himself:

“Brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them.”

Josephus was a high-ranking priest and he was in Jerusalem at that time; he certainly was present at that assembly. He had joined the sect of the Pharisees at the age of nineteen and so he must have been among those priests who stood up to defend Paul. The apostle was then handed over to the Roman governor, Felix, who kept him under arrest for some time, until he was sent to Rome, together with some other prisoners (Acts 27:1), to be judged by the emperor, to whom, as a Roman citizen, Paul had appealed. In Rome, he spent two years in prison (Acts 28:39) before being set free in AD 63 or 64.

In his autobiography (Life, 3.13), Josephus says:

“Between the age of twenty-six and twenty-seven I embarked on a journey to Rome, for the following reason. During the period when he was governor of Judaea, Felix had sent some priests to Rome to justify themselves before the emperor; I knew them to be excellent people, who had been arrested on insignificant charges. As I desired to devise a plan to save them, . . . I journeyed to Rome.”

Somehow, Josephus succeeded in reaching Rome, where he made friends with Aliturus, a Jewish mime who was appreciated by Nero. Thanks to Aliturus, he was introduced to Poppaea, the wife of the emperor, and through her agency, he succeeded in freeing the priests (Life, 3.16).

The correspondence of dates, facts, and people involved is so perfect that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Josephus went to Rome, at his own personal risk and expense, specifically to free Paul and his companions, and that it was due to his intervention that the apostle was released. This presupposes that the relationship between the two was much closer than that of a simple occasional acquaintance. Thus Josephus must have known much more about Christianity than is evident from his works, and his knowledge came directly from the teaching of Paul, of whom, in all likelihood, he was a disciple.

When Josepus returned to Rome, in AD 70 his master had been executed, together with most of the Christians he had converted, his fatherland had been annihilated, the Temple destroyed, the priestly family exterminated, his reputation tarnished by the stain of treachery. He must have been animated by very strong desires for redemption and revenge. Besides he probably felt responsible for the destinies of the humiliated remnants of one of the greatest families in the world, the 15 high priests who shared his same condition. There is information about a meeting presided over by Josephus Flavius, unquestionably the strongest and most important character in that group of people, during the course of which the priests examined the situation of the their family and decided on a strategy to improve its fortunes. Josephus lucidly conceived a plan that in those circumstances would have appeared to anybody else to be the utmost folly. This man, sitting amid the smoking ruins of what had been his fatherland, surrounded by a few humiliated, disconsolate survivors rejected by their fellow countrymen, aspired to no less than conquering that enormous, powerful Empire that had defeated him, and establishing his descendants and those of the men around him as the ruling class of that Empire.

The first step in that strategy was taking control of the newborn Christian religion and transforming it into a solid basis of power for the priestly family. Having come to Rome in the entourage of Titus, and thus strong in the emperor’s protection and well supplied from an economic point of view, these priests could not have encountered great problems in taking over the leadership of the tiny group of Christians who had survived Nero’s persecution, legitimated as they were by the relationship of Josephus Flavius with Paul. Only six years had passed since he sought Paul’s freedom from Roman imprisonment. The apostle of the nations must have died at least three years before. Josephus must have felt a moral obligation to continue the deeds of his ancient master whose doctrine he knew perfectly, and, sensing its potential for propagation in the Roman world, he dedicated himself and his organization of priests to its practical implementation. Once he had created a strong Christian community in the capital, it could not have been difficult for the priests also to impose its authority on the other Christian communities scattered around the Empire—first of all, on those that had been created or catechized by Paul himself.

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