The aim of this paper is to show that a Biblical story - Joshua's Passover at Gilgal - was a meaningful pattern which can help understand the significance of very different stories : the fact that the Qumran settlement was established in a desert as well as Jesus' public life according to the Synoptics. We will try to put together various fields of research and proceed in four steps.
1. The first Passover, performed at the very beginning of the exodus from Egypt, announces a new one "when you are in the land the Lord is to give you" (Ex 12:25). Then we hear of Joshua's Passover, connected with a renewal of the Covenant and the eating of the produce of the Promised land, but the textual tradition is difficult.
Side problem : is it possible to celebrate Passover outside Eretz Israel ?
2. After Herod the Great - and his very suspicious temple - the position in Judaea was messy, with the blossoming of plenty of movements which were extant before him. Some of them, illustrated by John the Baptist and Theudas, wanted a renewal of Joshua's crossing of the Jordan river, as if a new people was coming from Egypt to expel the local pagans or sinners.
Side problem : this definitely involves the very controversial "Slavonic Josephus" which has just appeared in English translation.
3. Qumran. Could that spot have been a Passover place for some marginal groups ? The Essenes were farmers, not desert-dwellers, for the Promised land had to give its produce, i. e. the sign of its holiness.
Side problem : some reassessment of the Qumran excavations is needed.
4. Synoptic gospels : Jesus' story runs from crossing the Jordan river through a last Passover, with renewal of the Covenant, eating bread and drinking wine (produce of the Promised Land, connected with the first two Pentecosts), all this duly transformed in a gateway into the kingdom of God.
Side problem : scholarship on the synoptics is highly controversial, too.
The traditional Passover Seder focuses on the exodus from Egypt. But a new one is announced "when you are in the land the Lord is to give you" (Ex 12:25). According to Jos 5, it happened at Gilgal, after the Israelites had crossed over the Jordan River on dry land : they made the Passover at Gilgal on the fourteenth day of the month, and were able to eat of the produce of the land, uneavened bread and parched grain. Then the manna ceased.
The scope of this study is not to dwell on the desert period. We shall not ask why the generation of the desert did not celebrate this feast ; there was a problem of circumcision. Of course one may wonder whether at Gilgal they ate barley or wheat bread, or which kind of "produce of the land" they could eat immediately after the manna ceased. But we want to consider the literary pattern which emerges from this narrative : crossing the Jordan means getting into the Promised Land ; circumcision indicates a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant ; eating the produce of the land points to the completion of the Exodus journey. Two rites are performed : covenantal circumcision and Passover ; the latter includes a hint at Pentecost, the feast of the firstfruits of the Land. It should be stressed that according to Ex 12:43 no foreigner may eat the Passover lamb. In other words, circumcision is the gateway to Passover.
The aim of this paper is to show that during the Second Temple period this pattern was meaningful in several trends of Judaism. We shall proceed in four steps :
1. The narrative of Jos 5 is not crystal clear, because of textual problems.
2. The stories of Theudas and John the Baptist are embedded in the Joshua pattern.
3. The same pattern can explain some features at Qumran,…
4. ...and the general outline of Jesus' public life in the Synoptics.
1. The Joshua Narrative. Passover
The MT and LXX give the best attested versions of the story, but they are quite different.
Jos 5 MT LXX (ms. B)
v. 2b And again (aeye) circumcise the sons of Israel a second time (zipy). And sit down (aye) and circumcise the sons of Israel (A adds 'a second time').
v. 3 And Joshua made stone swords for himself,
and circumcised the sons of Israel at
the Hill of the foreskins. And Joshua made sharp-edged stone swords,
and circumcised the sons of Israel at the place called
the Hill of the foreskins.
v. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them :
all the people who came from Egypt, the males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness, in their coming out of Egypt. In what way Joshua "circumpurified" (qerjekêiaren) the sons of Israel,
as many as were [born] on the way, also as many as were uncircumcised of the [people] having come out of Egypt.
v. 5 For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people borne in the wilderness, on the way in their coming out of Egypt, had not been circumcised Joshua circumcised all of them.
v. 6 For forty years the sons of Israel walked (ekld) in the
till the consumption of all the people, men of war, having come out of Egypt, who did not obey the voice of the Lord, For forty-two years Israel wandered (£n?straqtaj, ekldzd) in the Madbaritis wilderness (sic),
for were uncircumcised most of the men of war having come out of the land of Egypt, who did not obey the commandments of God,
to whom the Lord swore not to show them (mze$xd) the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers of giving us a land flowing with milk and honey. to whom he stated they would not
see (mze$x) the land which the
Lord had sworn to their fathers of giving us a land flowing with milk and honey.
v. 7 And he raised up in their place their sons, whom Joshua circumcised, because they were uncircumcised, for they did not circumcise them on the way. And he raised up in their place their sons, whom Joshua circumcised, because those born on the way were uncircumcised.
v. 8 And it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stay in the camp till they were healed.
v. 10 The sons of Israel camped in Gilgal,
and they made the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. The sons of Israel
made the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight at the west of Jericho, beyond the Jordan, on the plain (double transl.).
v. 11 And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after Passover, unleavened (bread) and parched (grain), on this very day. And they ate of the wheat of the land,
unleavened (things) and new (produce). On this day,
v. 12 And the manna ceased on the day
after their eating of the produce of
the land, and there was no more manna to the sons of Israel, and they
ate of the fruits of the land of Canaan that year. the manna ceased
after their having eaten of the wheat of the land, and there was no more manna to the sons of Israel, and they
harvested the land of the Phoenicians that year.
Other witnesses :
-Justin, Dialogue §???113, mentions a de?teran qerjtpm?n (v. 2) and " heaps of foreskins ", as in Old Latin below (v. 3).
-Latin traditions :
= The Old Latin on the whole follows the LXX, but is conflated :
v. 3 has ...et circumcidit filios Israhel et posuit grumos praeputiorum in loco qui nunc vocatur Collis praeputiorum " and he circumcised the sons of Israel and put heaps of foreskins at a place which is now called the Hill of the foreskins ". This wording may indicate that Joshua brought lots of foreskins from previous circumcisions, as suggested by Song Rabba (see below).
v. 4 combinates MT hoc verbo quo circumcisa est and LXX hoc autem modo purgavit.
v. 5 is omitted.
v. 6 puts v. 6a MT before the whole LXX verse (which reads XL annis).
v. 7 end has eo quod fuissent in itinere circumcisi.
= The African Latin text is witnessed by two writers :
Cyprian, Testim. I,8 quotes Et dixit Dominus ad Iesum... et circumcide secundo filios Israel, and explains that after the first circumcision is cancelled there is a promise of a second, spiritual circumcision.
Augustin, Quaest. lib. VI runs as LXX, but also has iterum " a second time " in v. 2. After quoting v. 2-6a he explains at length that no individual gets circumcised twice, but the people as a whole was circumcised again. Thus the passage is no authority to justify the idea of a second baptism or a spiritual circumcision.
The passage entails many literary problems. According to the MT, Joshua performed a wholesale circumcision at Gilgal before the second Passover, which fits the commandment of Ex 12:43. Thus "a second time" (v. 2) suggests that the Israelites were circumcised for the first Passover in Egypt. On the contrary, the LXX indicates that Joshua did circumcise some Israelites already in Egypt, and then in the wilderness. One Midrash (Song Rabba 1.12.3) asks who circumcised the Israelites in Egypt before the first Passover. Some say that Moses did it, but other say that it was Joshua. This fits the LXX, or some Hebrew behind it .
The history of the text is not settled. Some say that the LXX reflects an early stage, i. e. that its Hebrew vorlage is earlier than the MT, which managed to let the Passover regulations appear . Others state that the LXX - or its Hebrew source - interprets the MT, and cannot be held as the witness of an earlier stage. Anyhow, both forms of the text seem to have been extant in Hebrew and Greek : the Old Latin follows generally the LXX, combined with big MT-like interpolations, but these may reflect another Greek translation, for we have it witnessed by the Syro-Hexaplaric fragments and by Justin. Conversely, it is doubtful that Song Rabba depends on the Greek LXX, which would imply that another Hebrew form was extant . Such a form is somewhat attested by a poorly preserved Qumran fragment (4 Q Josha), which omits zipy in v. 2 and reads ze$x in v. 6 ; unfortunately, too many lacunae prevent any further comparison with MT or LXX.
Two side witnesses should now be produced : first, the Samaritan version of Joshua omits the topic of circumcision (Jos 5:2-8), so that the removal of the " reproach of Egypt " of v. 9 refers to the fear of the Canaanite kings of v. 1, and Passover follows immediately. Second, Josephus, who has said (like 4 Q Josha) that Joshua erected an altar at Gilgal with the twelve stones (Jos 4:20), has the same omission (AJ 5:20), so that Passover seems to be connected with this altar ; an argumentum e silentio cannot be decisive, but in the context Josephus follows closely the details of his source ; we may add that Pseudo-Philo (LAB 21:7) has the same feature . If we join these testimonies to the previous discussion, a tolerable conclusion would be that the controversial passage on the circumcision reflects several attempts to fill in a gap, that is, to show that the Israelites did celebrate Passover according to the laws of Moses .
As for the sequel of Passover we may note that the LXX speaks of "eating the wheat of the land", but without stressing that this occurred the day after Passover. Now according to Lev 23:17-20 the firstfruits of the wheat (as baked bread) must be presented on the feast of Pentecost, which closes Passover, according to tradition.
This literary device of crossing the Jordan river, renewing the circumcision, celebrating Passover and eating the produce of the land has a clear-cut meaning, but it involves some problems. Some of them, connected with halakha (purification, origin of the unleavened bread, firstfruits to be eaten), are beyond the scope of this study. We shall focus on Passover as the gateway to the holiness of the Promised land. But, according to tradition, the Passover lamb had to be eaten only in Jerusalem, the "chosen place" of Deuteronomy ; so were the feasts prompted by Josias (2 Chron 35:7 f.) and by Zorobabel (Ezra 5:19-22). This Deuteronomistic, centralized view is followed by the main Rabbinic traditions, but it is not supported by the other parts of the Pentateuch.
The Arab historian Al-Biruni (11th cent.) speaks of the peculiar calendar of the Ma?ariyya, or "cave dwellers", a Jewish sect known only from documents found in caves near Qumran about 800 CE. He states that their Passover always falls on a Wednesday (according to the Jubilees calendar), and that they regard the obligations and rites as compulsory only for those who live in the Land of Israel. Rabbinic sources have kept traces of some local customs in Judaea and Galilee (see t.Be®a 2:15).
As for the possibility of eating the Passover lamb outside the land of Israel, we have some hints at controversies. First of all, we must note that Esther, at the time of the Haman persecution, proclaimed a three-day fast on the 13th day of the first month (i. e. Nisan, Est 3:12), which cannot be reconciled with a proper celebration of Passover ; in fact, the liberation which came in the sequel has no connection whatsoever with a migration to a Promised Land. Philo is imprecise : he emphasizes that for the paschal sacrifice the whole people is a priest, as in the time of Moses (Spec. leg. 2:146 ; he never alludes to the book of Joshua) : this could mean either "the whole people assembled", that is on pilgrimage, or "everyone at home", that is mostly outside Jerusalem.
In another context, we have an interesting controversy about the Passover lamb in Rome. Speaking from there in 93 CE, Josephus mentions the Passover lamb in his Biblical paraphrase. About the sacrifices made by clans, he says first (AJ 2:313) : "Even today we sacrifice according to the custom." Later he removes any doubt by stating that these sacrifices are called "Passover" (AJ 3:248). In spite of his desire to be recognized as a Jewish leader striving to reorganize his countrymen after the fall of Jerusalem, he does not specify where the Jews have to perform these rites, but that does not seem to be limited to Judaea. A rabbinic passage may throw some light on the topic (b.Pes 53a-b) : a certain Theodosius (or Theodore) at Rome wanted to enforce the rite of the paschal lamb, but they sent from Yabneh to tell him that had he been a less important person, he would have been banned. As for his importance, some say he was a scholar, others believe his coercive power ("fist") could be dangerous. Both opinions suit Josephus, a high-ranking Roman freedman. The different name is no objection, for Theodore can be viewed as the Greek form of Mattathias (mattat-yahu), the name of Josephus' father.
There never was any tradition of eating the Passover lamb among the Christians in Rome. So we may conclude that besides some unfollowed-up attempts, the rite was definitely a memorial of the entrance into the Promised land, and could culminate in the Chosen place (Jerusalem for the Jews, Gerizim for the Samaritans).
2. After Herod the Great : Theudas, John the Baptist
Josephus' famous description of the schools or "philosophies" among the Jews strives to put some order into various trends. Two points give some clue to his methods and views. In the Jewish War, after mentioning Judas the Galilaean and his deeds, he describes three "sects" (a?r?sejf), but later, in the Antiquities, this very same Judas becomes the founder of a "fourth philosophy", albeit quite objectionable, for its followers were just a bunch of "brigands" ; thus we see how Josephus sorts out almost everything. Almost, we said, for he never mentions any messianizing idea or movement, he never grants the zealots any religious, eschatological tenets. This is the second point.
After Herod's death and during Archelaus' tenure, many rebellious groups rose, some with self-styled kings of Israel : for Josephus, these zealots were simply criminal "brigands". It is typical that he removes from his descriptions of the Essenes any eschatological view or hope. He is content to refer to a prohibition of "brigand" activism. For him, the Davidic dynasty disappears after the Exile, and no legitimate heir is envisioned.
These remarks give a background for understanding the nature of the story of Theudas, as given by Josephus (AJ 20:97-98) :
While Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judaea, a certain impostor (false prophet), named Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take up their possessions with them and to follow him to the Jordan river. He stated that he was a prophet and that he would, by his own command, part the river and afford them an easy passage over it. And he deceived many by these words. However, Fadus did not permit them to take any advantage of this folly, but sent out against them a troop of horsemen. These fell upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, then cut off his head, and brought it to Jerusalem.
This narrative is poorly connected to the other events of Fadus' tenure (44-45 CE), and may come from popular tradition. It is short, but the mention of "their possessions" and "parting the Jordan river" gives some clues to fill in the gaps : Theudas acts as a new Joshua, and his followers look like the ancient Israelites coming out of Egypt, arriving beyond the Jordan and getting prepared for a new conquest of the Promised land, that is for a war. Fadus can hardly be credited of any Biblical knowledge, but his reactions show that he perfectly understood that dangerous battles were at stake. Theudas' plan was, no doubt, to perform a Passover rite after the crossing. As for circumcision, we may surmise that his Jewish followers did not need it, but we may wonder whether some Gentiles joined him, in the hope of getting rid of the Roman dominion. Josephus tells us that his speech was powerful. In other places, Jewish disturbances prompted by messianizing preachings were very attractive to crowds which never bothered to consider the laws of Moses.
Josephus, who does not elaborate on Joshua's model, is content with viewing Theudas as one of the rebels whose deeds consistently elicit Roman retaliation. In the sequel he mentions some "sons" of Judas the Galilaean, who apparently led a rebellious movement during a great famine in 45 or 46. In his speech, according to Acts 5:36-37, Gamaliel mentions together Theudas and Judas (in this order), but his main point is to show that a rebellious movement fades out when its leader is put to death.
All this will help us to understand the position of John the Baptist in the Gospels. We have a combination of two different patterns, corresponding approximately to John as against the Synoptics.
According to Jn 1:28, John the Baptist used to baptize in Bethania, beyond the Jordan river ; later on, we learn that he was baptizing "in Aenon near Selim, because there was much water there" while Jesus was baptizing in Judaea (Jn 3:22-23). Thus we conclude that John the Baptist had disciples, but there is no hint of a baptism in the Jordan. Indeed, Josephus' notice in AJ 18:117 describes accurately this baptism, but does not connect it with the Jordan either.
According to the Synoptics, John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan (Mt 3:5-6 p.), and "all Jerusalem, all Judaea and all the region around the Jordan went out to him". Thus we learn that a whole people came to the Jordan river, and the significance of baptism gets blurred, but something remains in John's urging the people to convert, and not accepting some Pharisees and Sadducees as disciples. The two patterns are mixed up by the very phrase "baptizing in the Jordan", which contradicts the idea of crossing over it on dry ground, as did the ancient Israelites. Leading a whole people into a renewed Promised land cannot amount to making disciples : the former recalls Joshua, the latter does not.
Josephus gives a helpful account of the life of John the Baptist, which survives only in the Slavonic version of the War (see Appendix). There are two passages, from which we remove the stories of Philip and Herodias, for they are irrelevant here.
A (After JW 2:110) And at that time a certain man was going about Judaea in strange garments. He donned the hair of cattle on those part of his body which were not covered with his own hair. And he was wild of visage.
B And he came to the Jews and called them to freedom, saying : "God has sent me to show you the lawful way, by which you will get rid of many rulers. And there will be no mortal ruler over you, but only the Most High , who sent me."
C And when they heard this, the people were happy. And all Judaea and the environs of Jerusalem were following him . And he did nothing else to them than immerse them in the Jordan's stream. And he dimissed them, bidding them to refrain from their wicked deeds, and a king would be given to them, saving them and humbling all the rebellious, while he himself would be humbled by no one.
D Some mocked his speeches, others believed them. And when he was brought before Archelaus and the legists were assembled, they asked him who he was and where had been up till then. In answer he said : "I am a man led by the Spirit of God , feeding on the roots of reeds and the shoots of trees ."
E When they threatened him with torture if he did not cease those words and deeds, he said : "It is you who should cease from your foolish deeds and adhere to the Lord your God". F And arising in fury, Simon, a scribe, Essene by origin, said : "We read the divine Scriptures everyday, and you, who just came in now like a beast from the woods, dare to teach us and to lead astray the people with your impious words." And he rushed forward to tear his body apart.
G But he, reproaching them, said : "I am not revealing to you the mystery which is among you , because you have not wished it. Therefore, there is an unutterable calamity coming on you, because of you."
H Thus he spoke and left for the other side of the Jordan. And as nobody dared to prevent him, he would do just what he had done before.
I (After JW 2:168) And his habits were strange and his way of life not that of a human being, and he existed just like a fleshless spirit.
J His mouth knew no bread nor did he even taste the unleaven bread at Passover, saying that it was in remembrance of God, who had delivered the people from servitude and had given it to eat for escape, and that the way to freedom was short (or urgent).
K Wine and fermented liquor he would not allow to come near himself. And he detested the eating of all animal meat. And he denounced all injustice.
L And for his needs there were tree shoots.
As in the Synoptics, the significance of baptism is not very apparent, for no disciple is mentioned. But the items of the Joshua pattern are quite clear :
1. John summons a whole people at the Jordan river (§B, C) ; of course, they do not come out from Egypt, but from corrupted Judaea.
2. John himself does not consume anything from the Holy Land's produce (bread, wine, meat, human garments, §A, J, K, L). He is wild.
3. His known dwelling place is beyond the Jordan (§H), and he proclaims that the kingdom of God is close at hand (§B, G). Significantly, he does not take part in Passover (§J, K).
4. Thus, both topography and special diet indicate that he remains close to the gate of the Holy Land, but slightly outside.
To sum up, John's baptism was in many respects an Essene-like institution, which is clearly shown by the fourth Gospel, as well as several mentions of the "baptism of John" in Acts, for we hear of it from Alexandria in Egypt (Apollos, see Ac 18:24) and from Ephesus (the twelve men, see Ac 19:7). It cannot be far-fetched to state that subsequently the Christian baptism simply inherited from this institution, albeit with a slightly different meaning.
But things are different if we consider the singularity of John's personality : as an inspired prophet, he acted for a wholesale renewal of Israel, independantly of any baptism. We cannot be sure whether he actually referred to Joshua, or if his deeds were remoulded by tradition into the Joshua pattern. Either one can be partly true - and probably is.
3. Qumran and Passover
The Qumran diggings were done in the footsteps of the discovery of ancient manuscripts in the surrounding caves. It was soon recognized that some of the texts definitely pointed to an Essene milieu, as described by Philo, Josephus and Pliny. Indeed, the very first surveys showed that a fair amount of pottery shards were of the same (Roman) types as the vessels unearthed from the caves. Then, the excavations brought to light an impressive water system, with decanters and cleansing pools. Putting all this together, it was concluded that an Essene community had dwelt there and was responsible for the "sectarian" works of the caves. According to some manuscripts, the founder of the movement was called the "Teacher of Righteousness", but information about him is scant.
Moreover, the book of 1 Maccabees has provided additional clues : first, during Antiochus Epiphanes' persecutions, many religious Jews took refuge in the desert, and were identified with the important group of the Asidaioi (obviously from the Hebrew ?asidim), mentioned several times ; second, some stated that below the word "Essenes" was an Arama?c ?asaya, a probable equivalent of ?asidim ; third, the Essenes claimed to be true "sons of Zadok", and as such faithful to the ancient priestly Zadokite dynasty ; fourth, the last known Zadokite was Onias, who was killed in 172 BCE, at the very beginning of the Hellenization process launched by his brother Jason and after him by Menelas ; fifth, there is a strange gap of seven years between the death of Alkim (159 BCE), the last high priest who fought the Maccabees, and the promotion to high priesthood of Jonathan, the first Hasmonean recognized as a ruler by the Syrian king in 152 ; sixth, such a gap is impossible, because the Temple worship had to be performed anyway, so that somebody was necessarily in charge, but his memory was censored in the official Hasmonean records ; seventh, a true Zadokite - Onias' son or nephew - was necessarily in charge during these seven years, but he eventually failed to restore the dynasty ; eighth, after being defeated by Jonathan, he went to the desert and founded the Essene movement, or at least organized it, at Qumran and in the environs. He was the Teacher of Righteousness.
But this way of reasoning is demonstrably shaky in many respects :
1. The notion of a Zadokite dynasty is poorly founded. No pontifical list suggests such a thing. In the books of Samuel and Kings, the high priest Zadok, who was in charge when Solomon's Temple was built and dedicated, has no recorded genealogy. In the later lists (1 Chron 5 ; Ezra 7 ; Josephus), Zadok is no more than an item in the Aaronite dynasty, with no specific qualification. The "priests levites sons of Zadok" of Ez 44:15 do not amount to a Zadokite dynasty, for the phrase "sons of Zadok" may simply refer to religious faithfulness, i. e. "worthy to be called sons of Zadok". In CD 3:18-4:4, the same verse, which reads "priests and levites and sons of Zadoq", is viewed as referring to three groups of faithful Israelites. As for Onias, 2 M 5:9 mentions a Spartan origin through an Egyptian connection ; in fact, the very name Onias has an Egyptian flavor (in Ex 1:11 LXX, Yn is translated &Hl#pu q?ljf "Sun-City").
2. The identification of the refugees in the desert with the Asideans is unwarranted by the story, which brings together different pieces (1 M 2:29-42) : these refugees were killed on a Sabbath because the holiness of the day prevented any armed defense ; hearing of this, Mattathias and his friends decided to permit such a defense ; then the Asideans joined them. These Asideans, who were very religious, are never connected with any desert. Moreover, the relationship between ?asidim and essenoi through the Aramaic ?asaya is unconvincing, for its means "scratchers, sneerers", while the required meaning only occurs in later Syriac. Among other suggestions we may mention two Aramaic words : asaya "wonderworkers", which would recall Philo's Therapeuts, and ?ashaya "secret-keepers", which would hint at their esoteric teachings.
3. The suggestion that during the gap before Jonathan, the high priesthood was held in Jerusalem by an opponent of the Hasmoneans banned from any record, is just a logical deduction from the impossibility of an interruption in worship. But this is begging the question. In fact, a phenomenon of banned memory can be detected in 1 Maccabees, but in quite a different direction : the Onias temple in Egypt is never mentioned, while it is prominent in Josephus' account. It was founded or restored by a son or a nephew of the high priest Onias, and one cannot exclude the possibility that the traditional party, cast away from Jerusalem, tried to restore a new center of cultic reference in Egypt, till it was moved back to Jerusalem under the Hasmoneans (see 2 Mac 1:1-10). This would fit the prophecy of Is 19:18 : "In that day five cities of the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan…, and it will be said of one of them City of Destruction (qxdd)." Besides this MT reading we find in 1 Q Isa qxgd "City of the Sun", and in the LXX q?ljf asedek "City of Justice", strangely enough with a transcription of a very common Hebrew noun. This war of words suggests much more than a futile esoteric dispute. Another development shows that the Onias temple was something serious during a significant period : Josephus reports, after the fall of Massada in 74, that major zealot disturbances happened in Egypt, to such an extent that Vespasian gave orders to shut up that temple (JW 7:420-435). Seen from Rome, such a step must have been deemed relevant to keep control over the Jews, who were a large minority everywhere in the Roman empire ; it may not be irrelevant to connect this policy of Vespasian's with the inauguration in 75 of the Temple of Peace, where the cultic spoils of Jerusalem were on display. For quite different reasons, Rabbinic tradition stresses that the holiness of Jerusalem is never cancelled (m.Megilla 1:10), meaning that secondary shrines cannot replace it. We may add that Josephus, in expounding the Law, does not mention Jerusalem when he speaks of pilgrimages (AJ 4:203 ; see 3:245) : "Let the Israelites come to that city where the Temple shall be, and this three times in a year, etc." But he may have thought of Rome, rather than Onias' City.
4. As for the site of Qumran : as it stands, it can hardly have been the foundation place of the Essenes, for two different sets of reasons. First, the place lies in a desert, and no agriculture is possible, i. e. there is no actual relationship with the land and its produce, and thus no levitical offerings (tithes, firstfruits, etc.). Incidentally, the excavators were aware of this, and, looking for some farming in the vicinity, dug the nearby site of Ain-Fesh?a, where some vegetation was apparent. Second, a reassessment of the archaeological discoveries shows that besides some Iron Age features, there was first a patrician villa, built not earlier than the 1st cent. BCE. Later it was somewhat casually transformed into an Essene settlement (maybe by some squatting) : various buildings were added, and a sophisticated water system was devised.
All this involves a lot of problems far beyond the scope of this paper. If we focus on the Passover topic, we may bring along limited but significant evidence.
First, Pliny the Elder tells us that the Essenes were dwelling at some distance from the Dead Sea (Natural History, 5.17.73). His description reasonably squares with the site of Qumran, but he speaks of a whole people where nobody was born, because many newcomers used to join the group. A huge cemetery was found near the settlement. It has been very partially excavated, but there is a significant proportion of secondary burials, as if the place were a gateway for the world to come, like the Kidron valley in other times. As for the living, the site itself cannot have permanently accomodated many people.
Second, other archaeological findings seem meaningful. It is still unclear whether there was any cultic installation, but a certain amount of unbroken bones of sheep or goats were found buried in small vessels. This definitely points to something cultic, and probably the remains of Passover meals. Moreover, a big kiln was found, as well as a huge quantity of cheap bowls and plates, much more than the needs of any local community.
Now, the Joshua pattern suggests a very simple hypothesis, in view of Al-Biruni's testimony : that the site of Qumran would have been a pilgrimage center, especially for a sectarian Passover, which would be a memorial of a renewed entrance into the Promised Land. Thus Qumran would be a new Gilgal, for the living, and subsequently for the dead. Is is difficult to elaborate further, out of lack of documents, because for the Essenes, the gateway to the Covenant and its renewal is Pentecost, and not the circumcision, a requirement for Passover. In any case, the confusion of the history of the text of Jos 5 suggests again more than a mere erudite dispute : something like a controversy about the sign of the Covenant and its connection with the Jordan. A somewhat far-fetched hypothesis would be that the pilgrims would have camped on the spot between Passover and Pentecost, the latter being in many respects a conclusion of the former. This could fit the LXX wording of Jos 5 (but not the MT). In addition, some rites connected with the firstfruits could explain, for instance, the numerous cheap bowls and dishes.
4. The Narrative of the Synoptic Gospels
The most widespread view on the Gospels can be summarized as follows : first, the Gospel of John is the latest, for Jesus appears to have been divinized under Greek influences ; second, the earliest Gospel is Mark's, as proven by the two-source theory on the Synoptics ; third, according to Mk 1:14, the true primitive Gospel was Jesus' preaching (and healing) in Galilee, a region superficially Jewish, open to the nations and ready to get rid of the Law ; fourth, this happened when John the Baptist was arrested, so that Jesus could move freely to more useful activities ; fifth, John's baptism in the Jordan, which reflects an earlier phase of Jesus' life, is historical, because it had no bearing on Jesus' real mission, and even could have prevented it.
A sixth statement, which is not relevant here, is that the more Jewish items one can see in Matthew and John came out from a later process of rejudaization, so that the Jewish background of Jesus, as well as his history, can hardly be recovered. But lately some have argued that the Q-source (portions absent from Mk, but common to Mt and Lk, mainly speeches of Jesus), which definitely has a Jewish style, is earlier than Mk and closer to Jesus' milieu, but its reconstruction is marred by many problems.
The main objections to this synthesis are as follows :
1. First of all, the view that Galilee was superficially Jewish comes only from a doubtful statement of Josephus, that king Aristobulus "had conferred many benefits to his country ; he made war against Ituraea, and added a great part of it to Judaea, and compelled the inhabitants to be circumcised ; he was naturally a man of candor, etc." (AJ 13:318). This description cannot fit the short, appalling reign of Aristobulus (104-103), but is quite convenient for his father John Hyrcanus ; moreover, Ituraea is not Galilee. In fact, Josephus has no direct information : he quotes Strabo, who cites another authority but does not name clearly Aristobulus. A mistake lurks behind. The simplest correction is to read "Idumaeans" instead of "Ituraeans", and everything falls into place, for we know that Hyrcanus did circumcise the Idumaeans and annexed their large territory. Now it can be shown that Galilee had been a very Jewish place, for since some time before the Maccabean crisis at least we can track returnees from Babylon. They were Pharisees, and devoted to farming. Thus, they had strong ties with the land of Israel. After Herod's reign, the capitals Sephoris and later Tiberias were Romanized cities, which the country people never accepted. In 66-67 Josephus was sent there to organize the defense against an imminent Roman invasion. He strove to fill in the gap between these cities and the country, but he eventually failed. Later (around 93) he wrote an autobiography (Life) to show his credentials, but the main part of the book concerns only the three months he spent in Galilee. He introduces himself as a leading Pharisee, but speaks only of local struggles between Jewish parties, and refers to the War for major events. So many years after the war, such a parochial account can be of no interest but for the Jews : he wanted to prove that he had been the right man in this little province, so important for the Pharisees.
2. The view of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, that Jesus was later divinized in a Greek way, depends too much on Rabbinic traditions, which prohibit such a promotion. In earlier times, exceptional characters could be deemed divine, as both Josephus and some Qumran documents witness. In fact, the first Christians tried hard to show that Jesus was indeed a man, because of the theological need that the passion narrative was not a theatrical fiction. Docetism was and still is the most common heresy. Taking this into account, it appears immediately that the Gospel of John is much more Jewish than the others. Moreover, scholars have shown since many years that its historical details are the most accurate ; among many other things, its dating of the Last Supper one day before the Passover eve has to be preferred.
3. The two-source theory is generally taken for granted, because it is almost universally accepted, its remaining difficulties being deemed unimportant. But this is somewhat ideological, for in fact, after almost two centuries of painstaking studies, it is not yet proven beyond any doubt, simply because the problems left are not unimportant. At any rate, nobody can seriously conclude that Mark is more reliable than the others. As for the Q-source, which no one has ever seen, its reconstruction and dating remain problematic.
To sum up, the purpose of these remarks is only to pave the way for another hypothesis on the narrative outline of the Synoptics, in three steps.
First, the Passion narrative, from the last Supper till Jesus' burial is both full of well-taken Jewish details, and replete with legal impossibilities : Passover meal one day before Passover time, trial by a Sanhedrin on the night of a feast when there was no Sanhedrin, Barabbas freed after the Passover meal, Simon of Cyrene working in the fields that day, and so on. Thus it is a meaningfully constructed narrative, as the early Fathers understood very well : it is a 24-hour Christianized Passover, starting with the memorial, and culminating with the cross, symbolizing the slaughtering of the Passover lamb ; as for the Jewish Passover, the lambs obviously had to be prepared before the meal. One can say that this narrative develops Paul's commandment in 1 Cor 11:36 : "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, proclaim the Lord's death till he comes."
Second, the Last Supper brings together two different sets of things. On the one hand, we see very clear allusions to the Passover lamb, with an interesting detail : the disciples ask Jesus where he wants them to prepare Passover for him, as if they wanted to remain outside, like John the Baptist. On the other hand, the memorial itself has an allusion to a new covenant and is made by consuming a small quantity of specific items : some bread duly broken into pieces and one cup of wine for all. This has nothing to do with any Passover meal, but much with consuming the produce of the land. The small quantity is reminiscent of the Pentecost rite of the firstfruits, which frees the whole crop of the new year. This can easily symbolize a new era. We may add that in some Essene circles there was a row of Pentecosts, corresponding to bread, wine, oil, and maybe other items. Incidentally, the allusion to new wine in the Pentecost narrative of Acts cannot refer to the first Pentecost, which never falls after June (see Ac 2:13.15).
Third, we can now consider the whole public life of Jesus. It starts at the Jordan River, with John the Baptist who gathers crowds together, and ends up in Jerusalem at the Last Supper, where we see a combination of Covenant, Passover and produce of the land, with a symbol of firstfruits. This looks very much like the Joshua pattern extended to the core of the Land of Israel, Jesus and Joshua being the same name in Greek. But a new meaning is introduced : under the Promised Land is the kingdom of God ; under its produce to be consumed in firstfruit-like quantity is the firstborn son of this kingdom, i. e. the risen Jesus. So the bread and wine are made equivalent to his body and blood.
Of course, the rite symbolizes killing him, too, as the whole Passion narrative makes quite clear. In Jn 6:49 f., Jesus says to the Jews : "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness… Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Again, but worked out differently, the Joshua pattern lies behind.
Appendix : The Slavonic Version of Josephus' War
A very peculiar Slavonic (Old-Russian) version of Josephus' War was identified in 1866. It has many omissions and some additions, but all together it is 15% shorter than the well-known Greek version. Discovered one century ago in the western scholarly world , it sparked heated controversies, for the most significant additions deal with major characters of the New Testament, but they are so strange that their being later Christian interpolations is not immediately obvious.
The first critical edition appeared in 1934-38, with a French translation on the opposite pages and a concise annotation , but the introduction of the editor, who died in 1937, was never published. In 1958 a new critical edition was published in Russian by N. Mes?c?erskij . And now an English translation of it just appeared , synoptically arranged with the classical Loeb translation.
E. Hansack, the most recent student of the Slavonic text , states bluntly that Mes?c?erskij's edition is worthless, but this judgment is a philologist's. Indeed, the work is full of misprints and the reconstructed text is somewhat eclectic, so that it is almost useless for a study of the dialectal variations of Old Russian. But the differences between the previous French translation and the new English one are minimal. Anyhow, the whole Slavonic literature is made of translations from Greek originals, done between the 9th and 11th centuries. Of course, the extant Greek works are safer to use for studying the content. Thus, the Slavonic War would be an unusual exception. Assuming that the source of the translation was the usual Greek War, Hansack points out two paradoxical facts : first, an extreme faithfulness typical of the Slavonic translators, who avoided idiomatic Slavonic phrasing, hence some glosses, which crept out in the margins and were introduced into the text by later copyists ; second, an extreme freedom of this translation, for many passages are shortened, expanded or dislocated. He feels compelled to conclude that there were two stages : a faithful, normal translation, and later on a serious editing by somebody else, who wanted to fight orthodox Christianity. But he observes that the reviser has the same style as the translator. However, he is not prepared to accept that the translator is responsible fot the whole work, or, in other words, that he used another Greek original, for nobody has ever seen such a text, even ancient writers who were eager to use Josephus apologetically.
Besides this, the main argument for denying that the Slavonic is genuine is that the longest additions are related to New Testament characters. He terms these additions "christological", meaning "Christian accretions", as if the very fact of favorably mentioning something like a Jesus movement was unthinkable under the pen of a Jew. But a Jewish Jesus movement, in Galilee or in Judaea, should not be confused with (Pauline) Christianity, which brings together Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles. In the Testimonium de Jesu, Josephus' well-known short notice in AJ 18:63-64, the only deed of Jesus mentioned is his having founded a school where both Jews and Gentiles were mixed together, an unfortunate feature which justifies the denunciation to Pilate by the Jewish rulers.
On the contrary, the additions of the Slavonic have no allusion at such a Christianity. Let us list some peculiarities :
1. About Herod the Great. A first addition (after JW 1:369) shows a scholarly discussion on Herod's messiahship. Indeed, he put the messianic star on some coins (referring to Num 24:17) ; we meet some Herodians left in the Gospels ; Epiphanes of Salamis wonders why the Jews stubbornly recognized bloodthirsty Herod as the Messiah, and not Jesus (Panarion, 20.2). A second addition (after JW 1:400) tells the story of Persian astronomers who followed a star which came close to Herod, but eventually disappeared after some hesitations, meaning that he was not the true Messiah.
2. The two notices quoted above on the wild prophet (John the Baptist) put him in the time of Archelaus, many years before Pilate, so that he cannot have been the forerunner of Jesus. We may note that Mt 3:1 refers his preaching to the same period, but the connection with Jesus is clearly stated.
3. A long notice on a wonderworker (who is obviously Jesus) follows JW 2:174. He cured many people on the mount of Olives, and had a lot of followers. His 150 servants were urging him to enter Jerusalem, kill the Roman troops and Pilate, and reign over them, but he refused. Having learnt this, the Jewish leaders went and informed Pilate, out of fear that if he happened to hear of this movement from others, his retaliation would be terrible. But Pilate, who was superstitious, released him. Later the leaders, out of jealousy, bribed Pilate to have him killed, and "they crucified him against the ancestral law", as if it were a Roman condemnation. This story has obvious contacts with the Gospels (mainly John), but it lacks significant features : there is no link either with the wild prophet (John the Baptist) nor with any scriptural tenet or title.
4. By the time of Claudius, there is a notice on the servants of this wonderworker (after JW 2:220). They were telling the people that their master "was still alive although he was dead". They were renowned, "for they performed wonderful signs" (in his name). The rulers wanted to stop them, but were afraid, saying that "such wonders do not happen by magic". But later they were pestered by them, and dispersed them. This story can be viewed as a tolerable summary of the first part of Acts, before Paul's appearance, when the new movement was strictly Jewish.
It is difficult to believe that these are Christian interpolations, for they lack the main characteristics witnessed by the New Testament Epistles and the first Fathers. As for the content, this material could be deemed close to the Nazorean milieu around James, or to the Pseudo-Clementine works, in which the arch-enemy is Paul. But if so, the editing was done in early times, when Josephus' works were protected in public libraries. This looks awkward.
Besides these problems, the Slavonic has Jewish aspects unknown to any Christian tradition. For instance, the notice on the Essenes has details witnessed by major Qumran texts (1 Q S, 4 Q MMT), including a row of Pentecosts. In another context, it has sometimes intriguing variants of the Biblical narratives, e. g. (after JW 1:140) :
Therefore it is fitting to marvel at divine Providence, how it requites evil for evil, but good for good. And it is impossible for man to hide before his almighty right hand, either for the just or for the unjust. But more still does his mighty eye look upon the just. And indeed Abraham, the forefather of our race, was led out of his land, because he had offended his brother in the division of their territories. And whereby he sinned, even thereby he received also his punishment. And again for his obedience, (God) gave him the Promised Land.
In fact, this unusual view is not isolated, for in AJ 1:281, Josephus states that in Jacob's dream God said (compare Gen 23:13) : "I led Abraham hither from Mesopotamia when he was being driven out by his kinsmen, and I made your father prosperous (Isaac)."
Now the problem is to check if there is a "window of possibility" that Josephus actually authored all this. He says in the preface to the War that he wrote it first in the "language of his forefathers" (Aramaic) and subsequently translated it into Greek. Later, he confessed that some learned assistants helped improve the style (Apion 1:50). In fact, the usual Greek version displays literary qualities which are not to be found in his later works, written without these helpers. Moreover, it contains several minute inaccuracies on Jewish matters, on Judaean topography, even on translations of Aramaic or Hebrew words, while in the later works Josephus is clearly well acquainted with Judaism, and even claims that his countrymen recognize his knowledge ; he boasts to have been in his youth an exceptionally gifted student. The obvious conclusion is twofold : the assistants in Rome were poorly trained in Jewish or Judaean matters, so that Josephus himself had to provide them with a first draft of the translation, surely with semitisms and probably with some additional material to insert, as he did when he rewrote portions of history in the Antiquities.
Thus, it is not strictly impossible that a copy of the first draft survived, uncatalogued in any official library, and was later translated into Slavonic, giving a shorter version. Its omissions and more Jewish phraseology can be explained this way. As for the additions which would have later disappeared, explanations are needed : items too legendary or related somehow to messianizing expectations would have been removed. But concerning the New Testament characters, we have to envision a three-stage process : first a quite favorable view of Jesus and his movement in Judaea, hence the first version of the War, published around 75 ; second, Josephus' discovery in Rome that Christianity, a somewhat messianizing "philosophy" with Jews and Gentiles - as such totally unacceptable -, had something to do with the same Jesus, hence an urgent removal of the corresponding material, the outcome being the usual War as it stands now, which received Titus' official approval around 78 ; third, he later on felt prompted, albeit reluctantly, to speak a little of Christianity, which should have reached his social milieu, hence what we read in the Antiquities, published in 93. In fact, the Testimonium de Jesu is not a testimony on Jesus in Judaea, but on the beliefs of the Christians in Rome, which hardly squares. We may add that ancient Christian writers knew by hearsay that Josephus had said something important on Jesus, but they were unable to find it in his available works. Conversely, Josephus was banned from Jewish memory - that he spoke too much of a painful story is one of the possible reasons.
It is true that almost all the surviving ancient literature related to Jesus is Christian, but this involves a bias, for at the beginning Christianity (with Gentiles) was a tiny portion of a large Jesus movement, whose other trends - properly Jewish - disappeared quickly, or at least are poorly attested by the documents at hand. Interestingly enough, R. Eisler, who wrote the most thorough - and controversial - monograph on the Slavonic affair , ventured to conclude that the Russian translator used the Greek draft of Josephus with a polemical purpose against Christianity.
About the origins of this Slavonic version, it hardly need be said that nothing can be formally proven. The observations made here are nothing more than an hypothesis that strives to put into a single frame a fair amount of scattered literary facts.
Jerusalem, Nov. 15th, 2003.