Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Jewish History of Justus of Tiberias and Agrippa's Messianic Claims [Part One]

Until you write a published book you can't possibly know what it's like to have the fluid thoughts in your head 'frozen' in a time capsule. It's a very strange feeling. The circumstances surrounding the publication of the Real Messiah were very unusual to say the least. I sent out a random email. The publisher immediately sent an email to me and had me on the next plane to London. The next thing I knew I was with my agent, her boyfriend and the publisher sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.

While we were talking strangely enough a Coptic priest of Scottish descent came along and asked us a question about something. It was very strange.

In any event, when I look at my book I can't help but feel now that there are many things I would change. Typos that somehow managed to get past the editor. All and all I am quite happy with the book. I can't help get the feeling though that I would have approached matters differently if it were a publisher of academic books, a university press of some sort.

The reason I say this is because I would have liked to emphasize Origen's testimony to a much greater degree. I really think it is decisive. The unfortunate thing of course was that I couldn't get my hands on the Latin version of Origen's Commentary on Matthew. We were rushed and the book had to get to press but I want to take a moment to walk my readers through the implications of this evidence.

If you get a copy of what passes as Origen's Commentary on Matthew you get an English translation of a Greek manuscript that ends prematurely. The Latin continues where the Greek leave off and contains a number of startling references including a variant section of the Rich Youth from the Gospel of the Hebrews (Mark 10:17 - 29) and of course a reference a 'Jewish history' known to Origen which identifies Agrippa as the messiah.

My information of the material comes from Adler and Vanderkam's the Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage which introduces the information in a section which deals with the messianic claims of the Herodian monarchs. We read:

... the tradition about Herod's Ashkelonite background was further proof of his ignoble character. But once infused with Christian content, the tradition of Herod's foreign background and his relationship to Gen 49:10 and Dan 9:24-27 decisively influenced the development of one stream in Christian interpretation of Daniel's apocalypse of weeks. In an apparent allusion to it in his Commentary on Matthew, Origen acknowledges that some interpreters of Dan 9:26 identified the 'coming prince' with Christ. But if Christ had been meant, Daniel would certainly have used the the appropriate messianic title to refer to him. The figure should instead be identified either as Herod or as Agrippa (the latter, he says, on the authority of a 'Jewish history.') In either case, it was with one of these foreign rulers that the oracle of Jacob was fulfilled. [The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage p. 235]

There are a number of starling things which come out of this discussion. It is important to note that Montgomery interprets the material in the same was as Adler [Montgomery The International Critical Commentary on Daniel, p. 399] and places this reference in his discussion of Daniel 9:26. The most obvious is that Origen doesn't make any reference to two Agrippas (as for instance Eusebius would later make from his copies of Josephus). 'Agrippa' is the one Agrippa of the rabbinic tradition - Marcus Julius Agrippa, the king at the time of the destruction of the temple.

Origen seems to imply that 'Agrippa' was not only the mashiach nagid (מָשִׁיחַ נָגִיד) of Daniel 9:26 but the world ruler of Genesis 49:10. Both points resurface in Origen's De Principiis but Agrippa is no longer explicitly mentioned. Of course when we compare the existing Greek and Latin translation of the original material it is clear that the text was constantly being edited to purify it from signs of 'heresy.' So you never know Agrippa might have been explicitly referenced in the original manuscript. It is difficult however not to see that he is in the back of Origen's mind.

After all in the course of discussing Genesis 49:8 - 12 Origen reference what appears to be a contemporary argument made by pagans that Agrippa did not represent the end to the Jewish monarchy. Some would apparently argue that the Imperial appointed 'Ethnarch' represents the continuation of the 'scepter' residing with Judah so Origen writes:

And what need is there to mention also that it was predicted of Christ as that then would the rulers fail from Judah, and the leaders from his thighs, when He came for whom it is reserved (the kingdom, namely); and that the expectation of the Gentiles should dwell in the land? For it is clearly manifest from the history, and from what is seen at the present day, that from the times of Jesus there were no longer any who were called kings of the Jews; all those Jewish institutions on which they prided themselves--I mean those arrangements relating to the temple and the altar, and the offering of the service, and the robes of the high priest-having been destroyed. For the prophecy was fulfilled which said, "The children of Israel shall sit many days, there being no king, nor ruler, nor sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, nor responses." And these predictions we employ to answer those who, in their perplexity as to the words spoken in Genesis by Jacob to Judah, assert that the Ethnarch, being of the race of Judah, is the ruler of the people, and that there will not fail some of his seed, until the advent of that Christ whom they figure to their imagination. But if "the children of Israel are to sit many days without a king, or ruler, or altar, or priesthood, or responses;" and if, since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood, it is manifest that the ruler has failed out of Judah, and the leader from between his thighs. And since the prediction declares that "the ruler shall not fail from Judah, and the leader from between his thighs, until what is reserved for Him shall come," it is manifest that He is come to whom (belongs) what is reserved--the expectation of the Gentiles. [De Principiis 4.1.3]

Origen is strangely placed in a position where he has to defend the idea that Agrippa - rather than ethnarch - represented the end of the Jewish monarchy and as we see in what follows, that he was the messiah naggid of Daniel 9:26 also "and according to Daniel, seventy weeks were fulfilled until (the coming of) Christ the Ruler."[ibid 4.1.5]

Adler's description of the contents of the Latin version of Origen's Commentary on Matthew seems to match perfectly the arguments that Origen makes in De Principiis. They reflect a knowledge of Hebrew that is very rare among the early Church Fathers. Origen is finally acknowledging what Jews have said for centuries - namely that Daniel can only be referring to a secular monarch. The prophesy cannot possibly fit Jesus nor indeed can Genesis 49:8 - 12.

It is terribly unfortunate that I don't have access to the original Latin but Adler includes a portion of it. The first cited refence:

Sed et civitas et sanctum corruptum est cum superveniente postes duces populo illi, sive Herode sive Agrippa (hunc enim dicit esse historia Iudaeorum). (Origen Commentary on Matthew ser 40 (81. 9 - 11) on Matthew 24:15 - 19 [The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity p. 235]

Adler notes that "it is regrettable that Origen fails to specify here the author of the Jewish history" but adds further that Origen repeatedly draws from this source. In another place Origen says 'Refurtur ... ab his qui Iudaicam historam conscripserunt'" (ser. 41 (82. 13 - 15). The one thing I would like to have of course is the original context of these statements. I'd like to know how exactly Origen introduces these ideas to his audience.

Nevertheless when we stop and think the discovery is pretty impressive especially when Adler himself seems to think that Justus of Tiberias is the most likely candidate to be the author of this 'Jewish history.' Alder writes that "although little is known about Justus of Tiberias, it is tempting to trace the story to him ..." While this reference is rather brief, I think that there a lot of circumstantial reasons for thinking Origen is reading Justus's Chronicle and I will present those arguments in my next post.

But just consider this for a moment - whether it is Justus or Josephus, it is undoubtedly a very, very early work which makes the argument that Agrippa rather than Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophesies. Origen even seems to give tacit approval to these sentiments.

Is it only me who sees the implications of this argument?

Email with comments or questions.

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