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The Dirty Dozen

The birth of Christianity, part 06


In the previous posts, I explored the idea that the gospel authors may have been giving us a historical account of real events but that they had to disguise those events and some of its key actors with allegory. I also pondered the possibility that the main protagonist Jesus may not necessarily have been one single person, but the personification of a movement. I am certainly not ruling out that the Jesus character may indeed have been the one most responsible person of a “Jesus movement. In either case, I hope you can see that this Jesus movement did not create its ideas or philosophies in a vacuum. Whether it applies to Jesus himself or not, I think I have shown that there is definitely a degree of myth building going on in the gospels.

In part 5 I gave a few thoughts along this line with regards to Mary, but if it is true for Mary then the question could be asked of other characters in the gospels as well. Even if we grant that all the characters of the gospels are based on historical people, can we then know if everything that they sad or did is indeed rooted in real history? The 1967 movie “the Dirty Dozen” seemed a very appropriate title under which to take a quick look at Jesus’ twelve ambassadors. Said movie is indeed rooted in actual WWII history, but as can be expected, is significantly modified to fit the screen and serve its purpose as entertainment. What I also found very “coincidental” are the parallels with the gospel stories of 19 centuries earlier, but I am unaware if the producers of the movie intended to draw any comparison or were even aware of those parallels themselves. In any case, it is fair to say that, like the dirty dozen of the movie, not all apostles of Jesus were without blemish. Aside from their varying identities, the gospels do not even consistently name twelve apostles.

(*) In Mark 2: 14, Levi (son) of Alphaeus is called to be a disciple of Jesus, but when Jesus appoints his twelve messengers (apostles), this tax collector is not mentioned among them. None of the other gospels mention this Levi. In Matthew’s gospel, the tax collector called by Jesus as a disciple is a Matthew. When this gospel lists the twelve this apostle Matthew is specifically called ‘Matthew the tax collector’. Luke also has a Matthew the tax collector called as a disciple of Jesus, but drops this identification when listing the twelve apostles. Although there are no sources to base this on, and possibly to keep the twelve apostles of the synoptic gospels to a symbolically more common twelve instead of thirteen, Christian traditions have conflated the two different tax collectors into one apostle, hence Matthew Levi.

John’s gospel does not name all twelve apostles and we only know that there were twelve of them from chapter 6. John’s gospel certainly stands out in many ways compared to the synoptic gospels. This gospel seems to avoid as much attention to the apostles as possible, even if the synoptic gospels are already very scarce with their information about them. Even so, in John’s gospel it is noteworthy that Jesus’ first two disciples started out as disciples of John the Baptist. Only one of them is named: Andrew and it is Andrew who brings Simon Peter to Jesus as the third disciple. The first disciple remains anonymous. The fourth disciple is Philip, like Andrew and Simon Peter a man from Bethsaida. On their way from Bethsaida to Galilee, Philip is the one to approach Nathaniel. As soon as Nathaniel meets Jesus, he calls him the son of god and that leads us to assume that Nathaniel becomes one of Jesus’ disciples [although, based on John’s gospel he did not really need to be taught anything anymore]. Thomas is mentioned in John’s chapter 11 about Lazarus. We have to wait until John’s last chapter 21 to find a listing similar to those of the synoptic gospels and where two sons of Zebediah are included as Jesus’ apostles.

The gospel according to Luke is the only one to mention a larger group of disciples of Jesus (Luke 10). Depending on the version, this is a group of 70 or 72. Both numbers have symbolic significance, but perhaps Luke was making a connection to the (Great) Sanhedrin of Jerusalem? We may never know for sure. I do keep in mind however that one of the authorities assumed by this council is that it could appoint kings and high priests and, also of note, declare war.

I doubt that the conundrum created by the differences between the gospels (and ‘Acts’) can ever be resolved to everyone’s complete satisfaction. One thing stands out to me however: the connection between Jesus and the various revolts and revolt leaders of the last decades of the Second Temple period is undeniable.

Jesus the terrorist?

I already mentioned dr. Lena Einhorn’s reflection on the possible time shift applied to the gospels’ historical accounts and the identification of Jesus as “the Egyptian” mentioned by Flavius Josephus. Without necessarily agreeing with her on the identification, there is no doubt that her observations deserve to be taken seriously. I can definitely see why she would come to her conclusions.

The synoptic gospels, the Book of Acts and the gospel of John only agree on 6 out of the twelve apostles. But even of those six, the identification of two of them in John can only be assumed, as the last gospel for some reason does not mention the names of the two sons of Zebediah. The above table also shows how over time, the gospel authors seem to be distancing Jesus from the rebels among his apostles. The author of Luke-Acts (assuming this is merely one and the same author) removes Thaddeus (Theudas) and inserts a second Judas. Since this Judas doesn’t seem to invoke any connection to the revolt leaders and easily disappears into obscurity, John has no problem keeping him around. The synoptic gospels and the Book of Acts still agree on counting Bartholomew (Bar Ptolemaeus, son of the Egyptian)and Simon the Zealot as followers of Jesus , John equally eliminates them from the story. I think the author of the last gospel would have eagerly eliminated the Sicarius as well if he could. But removing this ‘bad guy’ from the story would have been problematic, as Judas is so crucial for Jesus’ passion story.

Flavius Josephus tells us there were many dissidents, rebels and revolt leaders in the first seven decades of the first century, but he expands to one extent or the other on:

  1. Judah of Gamala or Judas the Galilean. According to Josephus, he and a Pharisee named the Just [Zadok] were the leaders of a revolt at the census organized by Quirinius in 6 AD. (A.J. L20, chapter 1). According to Luke, this is the birth year of Jesus. Josephus doesn’t give us details about the fate of Judah of Gamala, but tells us how during the procuratorship of Tiberius Julius Alexander from 46 to 48 AD, his two sons James and Simon were crucified (A.J. L20, chapter 5). The Zealot movement would endure however. Judas of Gamala (Judah) must have had other sons to carry on the guerrilla war as two other zealots are recorded being related to him. According to Josephus, Menahem ben Judah was his son (as his name indicates) but some scholars prefer to see him as his grandson. Judah may have had a son Yair, as Eleazar ben Yair was deemed his grandson. The two latter men played an instrumental role in the first Jewish War.

  2. Early in the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (44-46 AD), Jews from Perea attacked and killed many citizens of Philadelphia. Fadus had one of their leaders executed and banished two others. Meanwhile, an archrobber named Tholomy was causing trouble in Idumea and Nabatea. He was captured and killed some time after, so possibly in 45 AD.

  3. Theudas, as Josephus describes, was a magician and self-proclaimed prophet who called upon his followers to take what they could carry and follow him to the Jordan river. Josephus doesn’t enumerate his following but says he had persuaded a great part of the people (A,J. L20, chapter 5). In the Book of Acts, a number of 400 people is stated. Theudas was captured and decapitated under Fadus’ rule, hence anywhere between 44 and 46 AD.

  4. In 58 AD, the High Priest Jonathan was killed shortly after his appointment, according to Josephus upon instigation of the Roman procurator Marcus Antonius Felix. In the troubles that arose surrounding this event, a man from Egypt claiming to be a prophet enticed a multitude of people to follow him to the Mount of Olives, from where they would witness how the walls of Jerusalem would fall down on his command, upon which they could conquer the city and drive out the Romans. Felix ordered the entire Jerusalem garrison against them (at least one full cohort, approx. 600 men) and a battle ensued. Felix’ troops killed 400 rebels and took 200 of them captive, but their leader the Egyptian escaped and was not heard from since, at least not by Josephus (A.J. L20, chapter 8; J.W. L2, chapter 13). But perhaps a son of (this?) Egyptian, Bar Ptolemaeus is listed third to last in the synoptic gospels and Acts.

You can see why no Christian apologist (or very few) would admit that the above mentioned figures could be in any way connected to the closest friends and followers of Jesus. But even if they are right, there is no denying that Jesus’ most intimate disciples counted one Sicarius and one Zealot, both of them specifically chosen by Jesus to also become his messengers. Spreading the War Cry?

The gospel of Mark is the only one to call the sons of Zebedee, John and James, the Sons of Thunder. It is generally proposed that these are mere nicknames bestowed by Jesus as representing their quick temper or unbridled passion and zeal. I don’t claim to have any better explanation, but I do want to keep in mind that the gospels are rife with syncretic “religious” symbolism. In the Old Testament, thunder is used for divine punishment. Interestingly enough, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475 BC) saw the thunderbolt as a symbol of cosmic order. Diametrically opposed was the more common idea that thunder was Zeus/Jupiter/Jove’s preferred weapon of war and means of mass destruction. Both can be reconciled in the tradition that Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt to protect the natural order, for Asclepius infringed on the gods’ territory when he figured out how to raise the dead. From a Christian perspective there would be no problem to describe god as Zeus, the embodiment of the cosmic order and his disciples John and James as the thunderbolts by which that order is maintained when threatened. On the other hand, if Jesus was the Asclepius (one of the most revered demigods in the Greco-Roman world) teaching how to be raised from the dead he himself would be the threat to that cosmic order, and not in the least by his own resurrection. Either way, Jesus’ disciples seem not to fit into to a hippie commune singing Kumbaya amidst the flowers.

Between 48 and 52 AD, armed conflict broke out between the Galileans and Samaritans, evolving out of an alleged attack by the Samaritans on Galilean Jews passing through Samaria on their way to the feast of Passover in Jerusalem. Accusations flew both ways of course and the matter was first brought before the Syrian Legate Caius Quadratus and eventually before Emperor Claudius. Long story short, in 52 AD Quadratus had all the prisoners taken by Cumanus, both Jews and Samaritans, crucified while ordering the beheading of anyone involved in the fighting. Unable to have dealt with the matter himself, Cumanus was replaced. In Luke 9, Jesus set out on the same pilgrim road from Galilee to Jerusalem, shortly before Passover and “sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village”. For obvious reasons Luke doesn’t name the village, but Josephus does (Ginea/Geman*). When Jesus’ messengers are “not welcomed by the people there” and John and James learn about this, they ask Jesus if he would give the go-ahead for John and James to rain fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritans. The question appeals more to the biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah than thunderbolts from Zeus, but it is clear that John and James are quick to retaliate with total destruction rather than be open to diplomatic solutions. What is equally intriguing is that Jesus’ name for John and James, sons of Thunder, may connect them to the Thunderbolt Twelfth Legion. As said above, Jupiter / Zeus’ thunderbolts were his weapons of mass destruction. Early 66 AD, Gaius Cestus Gallus, proconsul of Syria, marched his troops south towards Judea to restore order in the region. His forces were built around the Legio XII Fulminata, which not only carried the name, but adorned their shields with the twin thunderbolts (which we would now consider to be lightning bolts, as they would be the visible part preceding the thunder). Is it coincidence that both the “pagan” symbol of the Twelfth Legion as well as the sons of Thunder, John and James are always represented in pairs or twins?

The goddess of war

As said in the previous post, Athena was not only the goddess of Wisdom, she was also a perpetual Virgin and as such (her) Wisdom was never corrupted by the desires of the flesh. She was also the goddess of War. Unlike her male colleague Ares (Mars) however, she represented the skills of strategy, tactics, efficiency rather than the brutal force, slaughter and havoc wreaked by Ares. Lastly, she also represented the idea of just war, the fight for freedom and the fight against oppression. This in itself would be enough justification for equating Mary with Athena.

Marrying Yahweh (Zeus, the cosmic order) with Mary (Athena, wisdom) may have given birth to Nazarenism (Joshua), but in spite of the openness to Hellenism (culturally and philosophically), Nazarenism also carries within it the seeds of conflict. Incorporating whatever works into your worldview may also lead to the refusal to be boxed in, to obey any specific authority or worship another human being as such. You can already imagine what it can lead up to when taken to its full conclusion.

It is also what we see in the gospels. On the one hand we have a Jesus who preaches temperance, openness, meekness and pragmatism, on the other a Jesus who rejects the authority of Sadducees, Pharisees and Roman rule. The gospel Joshua knows that this will lead to conflict and set brother against brother. His prediction that the end of the world would come within the life time of some of his apostles may not have come true, but it sure would have seemed to come to an end very shortly after his supposed crucifixion. It is very difficult to reconcile a human Joshua with this pervasive ambiguity, but as the embodiment of Nazarenism it should not be a surprise to find terrorists or guerrilla fighters among its adherents. Nobody will go to war without feeling justified to do so. The zealots, sicarii and perhaps even the sons of thunder John and James would have felt absolutely in the right to fight against the oppression of the establishment. The people who made up that establishment, the Romans, Sadducees, Herodians and a good part of the Pharisees would have felt equally justified in persecuting those freedom fighters or terrorists. The label is merely dependent on which side of the conflict you happen to find yourself at. Just as today, both sides would invoke the same god or gods and looked out for signs of divine support for their side. Maybe the 66 AD appearance of the comet Halley could have been interpreted by the Jewish insurgents in precisely that way: a divine sign of approval of their fight for freedom. The seeds of this war however were already sown much earlier, some perhaps by the hands of the gospel character known as Yeshua the Anointed.

Har Megiddo, the tel of Megiddo. The fortified city ceased to play a strategic role with the death of king Josiah, the last Judean king of the Davidic line, around 609 BC but still survives symbolically under its Greek variant Armageddon.

It remains very difficult to label the Jesus of the gospels with any of the known ‘philosophies’ mentioned by Josephus. We can be pretty sure Jesus was not a Sadducee, but Essene influences can be perceived in Jesus’ teachings and behavior and it is quite possible that he was a Pharisee. Lastly, given the company Jesus kept as well as based on some of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels, maybe Jesus can be tied to the zealot movement more than some would find comfortable.

  • Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” - Matthew 10: 34-36

  • I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” - Luke 12: 49-51

Jesus’ rebellious side is more prominent in the gospels according to Matthew and Luke, but even Mark has Jesus resort to violence when he drives out the money changers of the temple courts. The Sadducees and Pharisees may have had their “theological reasons” for wanting Jesus dead, but driving out the money changers from the Temple court (providing a single man would even have been capable of it) would have been more than enough disturbance of public order for the Romans to arrest Jesus. For some reason they didn’t, which is noteworthy, for the Roman garrison of Jerusalem (or at least a part of them) would have been perfectly capable of seeing this turmoil unfold from the Antonia fortress overlooking the temple court. The ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ is the only time Jesus uses physical violence in the gospels, but perhaps more importantly, it could tie Jesus and his following firmly to actual, independently attested history. It would also have been one of many cogs turning bigger and bigger cogs to the end time events of the First Jewish War.

Whether successful or not, by waging this war under the eyes of the Virgin, the authors of the gospels may have been approving this fight for freedom, without openly calling for war against the Roman authorities. The gospel authors, in one way or another, were hailing a Messiah, whether literally or allegorically, in defiance of the worldly rule of the Roman Empire. This would of course put their own lives in danger and is most likely the reason why they chose to remain anonymous.

Darryl P.A, 04 May 2022


Notes, sources, references:


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