Better Informed History for Atheists — Scholars assess the Two Jesus Parallels



By Neil Godfrey,


A week ago James McGrath alerted readers to a new post by Tim O’Neill of History for Atheists commending it for its take down of “amalgam Jesus” theorists for supposedly uncritically and emotionally concocting excuses to disbelieve in a historical Jesus. It has taken me a week since that alert but I have finally caught up with O’Neill’s Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures. His primary target is one L. Aron Nelson a.k.a “Aron Ra” 9 whom he presents as someone bearing

all the hallmarks of someone who has educated himself on the subject, without much idea of what is scholarly and credible and what is not.

Scholarly discussion at XTalk (Crosstalk) on the parallels between Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus of Nazareth was active in 2003 and again in 2005.

With that introduction we should expect to be informed of some of the scholarly responses to the ensuing arguments he critiques. (To avoid an over lengthy post I will focus on but one point in O’Neill’s essay and that will be his rebuttal of the claim that the Jesus of the gospels was to some extent based on Jesus of Ananias in Josephus’s account of the Jewish War, written some time between 74 and 79 CE. Other points can be addressed separately if warranted.)

Despite O’Neill’s attempt to address one who in his eyes had not “much idea of what is scholarly” and “credible” in the eyes of scholars, O’Neill himself fails to indicate that he has any awareness of the relevant scholarly discussions, let alone that those scholarly discussions essentially undermine almost everything he writes. His own attempts at take-down arguments have gained no traction among scholars engaged with this particular question. In this post I will provide the evidence from scholars that they do find the parallels significant and worthy of serious discussion with some suggesting that one Jesus was indeed in part based on the other.

Here is the Josephus passage with the key areas to be compared in red.

The Whiston translation of Josephus’ War of the Jews (6.300-309)

But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” (Jer.7:34 LXX) This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.

Tim O’Neill associates the argument with Richard Carrier and appears not to be aware that Carrier was presenting a well-known observation among professional scholars.

Here at least we have someone called Jesus who is obviously not Jesus of Nazareth and his story has at least some parallels with elements in the Jesus stories. The argument that these parallels indicate derivation and that the story of Jesus was in part based on that of ben Ananus is articulated in detail by … Richard Carrier …

Carrier actually credits the argument to two other highly renowned scholars, Theodore J. Weeden, Sr. and Craig Evans:

Indeed, even how Mark decides to construct the sequence of the Passover narrative appears to be based on the tale of another Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, the ‘Jesus of Jerusalem’, an insane prophet active in the 60s ce who is then killed in the siege of Jerusalem (roughly in the year 70). His story is told by Josephus in the Jewish War, and unless Josephus invented him, his narrative must have been famous, famous enough for Josephus to know of it, and thus famous enough for Mark to know of it, too, and make use of it to model the tale of his own Jesus. Or if Josephus invented the tale then Mark evidently used Josephus as a source. Because the parallels are too numerous to be at all probable as a coincidence.86 Some Mark does derive from elsewhere (or matches from elsewhere to a double purpose), but the overall scheme of the story in Josephus matches Mark too closely to believe that Mark just came up with the exact same scheme independently. And since it’s not believable that Josephus invented a new story using Mark, we must conclude Mark invented his story using Josephus—or the same tale known to Josephus. . . . There are at least twenty significant parallels (and one reversal)…

86. Theodore Weeden, ‘Two Jesuses, Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth: Provocative Parallels and Imaginative Imitation’, Forum N.S. 6.2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137- 341; Craig Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Studying the Historical Jesus (ed. Chilton and Evans), pp. 443-78 (475-77).

(Carrier, 428-29)

Given the tone of Tim O’Neill’s study up to this point a reader will expect to be led to a conclusion that “Carrier’s parallels” (they are in fact the parallels presented by scholars in the peer-reviewed scholarly literature) are going to be proved nonsensical or at best without significance. Will O’Neill’s rebuttals equally apply to two highly notable New Testament scholars, Weeden and Evans?

Carrier’s list of parallels are derived from Weeden so in the interests of presenting as fully as possible what is found among the peer-reviewed scholarly publications I will give here Evans’ list of parallels from another essay of his (I do not yet have access to the one Carrier cited):

There are several important parallels between the temple-related experiences of Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus son of Ananias.

Both entered the precincts of the temple (το ιερόν: Mark 11:11. 15. 27; 12:35; 13:1; 14:49; J.W. 6.5.3 §301)

at the time of a religious festival (έορτη: Mark 14:2; 15:6: John 2:23; J.W. 6.5.3 §300).

Both spoke of the doom of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44: 21:20-24; J.W. 6.5.3 §301),

the sanctuary (ναός: Mark 13:2; 14:58; J.W. 6.5.3 §301),

and the people (λαός: Mark 13:17; Luke 19:44; 23:28-31; J.W. 6.5.3 §301).

Both apparently alluded to Jeremiah 7, where the prophet condemned the temple establishment of his day (“cave of robbers”: Jer 7:11 in Mark 11:17: “the voice against the bridegroom and the bride”: Jer 7:34 in J.W. 6.5.3 §301).

Both were “arrested” by the authority of Jewish—not Roman—leaders (συλλαμβάνει v: Mark 14:48: John 18:12; J.W.6.5.3 §302).

Both were beaten by the Jewish authorities (παίεν: Matt 26:68: Mark 14:65; J.W. 6.5.3 §302).

Both were handed over to the Roman governor (ήγαγον αυτόν επί τον Πιλάτον: Luke 23:1; άνάγουσιν… επί τον… έπαρχον: J.W. 6.5.3 §303).

Both were interrogated by the Roman governor (ειτωτάν: Mark 15:4; J.W. 6.5.3 §305).

Both refused to answer to the governor (ουδεν άχοκρινεσθαι: Mark 15:5; J.W. 6.5.3 §305).

Both were scourged by the governor (μαστιγοϋν / μαστις: John 19:1; J.W. 6.5.3 §304).

Governor Pilate may have offered to release Jesus of Nazareth, but did not; Governor Albinus did release Jesus son of Ananias (απολύει v: Mark 15:9: J.W. 6.5.3 §305)

(Evans, 106)

The discussion among scholars, we shall see, is over how best to explain these very obvious parallels. Evans argued that the parallels are explained by the standard judicial procedures of the day: that is, both Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus of Nazareth went through the same standard judicial processes, that’s all. O’Neill argues for the same explanation even while simultaneously trying to say the parallels are not “strong enough”, but are “too flimsy” to suggest that one Jesus was in part based on the account of the other. In other words, O’Neill himself argues on the one hand that the parallels are “too flimsy” but on the other hand he offers an explanation for their obvious (not so flimsy) reality.

O’Neill says that the name Jesus is “not much of a parallel” because the name was very common.

To begin with, both figures being named Jesus (1) is not much of a parallel given how common that name was.

Do you see the logical confusion here? Two people having the same name is a very real and very strong parallel indeed. What O’Neill is doing is saying that he can find an explanation for that obvious parallel that does not require us to think that one person was modeled on the other. And of course that explanation is 100% correct — if that’s all there was to compare. O’Neill is overlooking the point that we are entitled to at least have a second look at accounts of a person by the same name doing and experiencing broadly similar things. There’s a multiplier factor in there somewhere.

O’Neill comes across as too keen to go for the jugular of anything he thinks smells of mythicism so that he ends up arguing from two contradictory positions: on the one hand trying to demonstrate that the parallels are “too flimsy” to be valid and on the other hand trying to present alternative explanations for parallels that are plainly evident and obvious.

Again overlooking the way the gospels elide Passover festival and Tabernacle festival themes in their portrayal of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, O’Neill claims to find no significance in the common detail of the two Jesuses declaiming against the Temple at a festival season. Yes, each one on its own is not unusual. But again, we have a multiplier effect. The name Jesus along with a Jeremiad against the temple along with a major religious festival — surely innocent bystanders are entitled to take some notice and wonder if there is to be any interesting revelation at the end.

Then we have the tiringly common assertion that “differences” outweigh “similarities”. Rubbish. If there were no differences we would not have any comparisons to compare. We would be staring at identical copies of the very same document or work of literature. What is especially interesting is when similarities can explain the differences and vice versa. But we have covered that theme so often already in our posts on comparative literary analysis relating to ancient literature generally and the gospels in particular.

Anyway, that’s not what I promised at the beginning of this post. Let’s have a look at what scholars themselves say about these parallels (not only Evans, but Weeden and their peers) and what they find credible.

Theodore Weeden:

As I examined closely Evans’ list of parallels between the Gospel accounts of Jesus and Josephus’ depiction of Jesus, son Ananias, I found the parallels identified by Evans to be both convincing and very striking. In fact, when I turned, subsequently, to read the Loeb Classical Library full text of Josephus’ story of Jesus, son of Ananias— Evans provided only an abridged translation in his _Jesus_ — I discovered also additional parallels between the two Jesuses which Evans’ apparently missed.

Now recall that we noted Evans’ conclusion that the (very real) parallels do nothing more than point to two different persons undergoing a similar set of experiences. Here is Weeden’s response to that point:

In my judgment, Evans’ contention that “[t]here is no indication that the story of one Jesus influenced the telling of the story of the other Jesus,” is brought into question by the additional parallels I have found between the two “Jesus” stories.

So it is a legitimate scholarly response to conclude that some form or influence between two narratives (written or oral) offers the best explanation for the parallels. We will see that Weeden is not alone.

Weeden offers his own list of parallels:

D. Parallels between Josephus’ Portrayal of Jesus, son of Ananias, and Mark’s Portrayal of Jesus

Here now is a complete list of the extensive parallels that I find between Josephus’ portrayal of the Jesus, son of Ananias and the Markan Jesus, a list which includes all the parallels which Evans identified as parallels inherent to Mark’s Gospel…

(1) Both primary subjects of the two stories are named “Jesus” ( _J.W._, VI. 300; Mark, passim).

(2) Jesus, son of Ananias, is depicted by Josephus as TWN IDIWTWN AGROIKOS (translated by Thackeray as “a rude peasant”:_J.W._, VI, 301). That means, at least in Josephus’ eyes, that Ananias’ son Jesus was an unskilled, boorish person. [Note: H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, _Greek-English Lexicon_ (1996), 819, define IDIWTNS , variously, as one who has “no professional knowledge,” “unpracticed, unskilled,” a “raw hand, ignoramus” and they suggest (15) that the term AGROIKOS is used to depict someone who is “rustic,” “boorish,” “rude.”]

The Markan Jesus is identified by Mark as a TEKNWN (“carpenter,” 6:3). In other words, Mark considered Jesus to be an artisan, which means that Mark placed Jesus in a social class (constituting about 5% of the population) which ranked below peasants and just above the Degraded and Expendable, the lowest classes in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time (see John Dominic Crossan, _Jesus: A Biography _, 23-25).

(3) Both Jesus, the son of Ananias, ( _J.W._, VI. 301) and the Markan Jesus (Mk. 3:22) are presumed by Jerusalemite leaders to be demon-possessed.

(4) Both Jesuses are thought to be deranged by certain people. Jesus, son of Ananias, is dubbed MANIAN (“a maniac”) by Albinus, the Roman procurator (_J.W._, VI. 305), and the Markan Jesus is declared EXESTH (“out of his mind”) by certain people, a view apparently shared also by his family (Mk. 3:21f.).

(5) Both Jesuses are depicted at least for some period of time as being daily in the Temple. Jesus, son of Ananias, is described by Josephus as KAQ’ hHMERAN (“daily”) in the Temple repeating “his lament, “Woe to Jerusalem” ( _J.W._, VI. 306), and the Markan Jesus reminds the arresting party in Gethsemane that “KAQ’ hHMERAN (“daily”) I was with you in the Temple teaching.”

(6) Both Jesuses are staged as present in the Temple (TO hIERPON; see _J.W._, VI.. 301 and Mk. 11:15-19) during the time of the holy festival(s) (EORTH; see _J.W._, VI..300 and Mk 14:2).

(7) Both Jesuses draw upon sections of Jeremiah 7— in which the prophet condemns the Temple, the people of Judah and Jerusalem— to frame their own respective condemnation of the Temple and or Jerusalem itself. Jesus, son of Ananias, makes Jer. 7:34 (“the voice of the bride and the bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem”) part of his woe-filled harangue against Jerusalem, the Temple and the people (_J.W._, VI. 301), and the Markan Jesus uses LXX Jer. 7:11 (SPHLAION LHSTWN [hUMEIS DE PEPOIHKATE, per Mark] hO OIKOS MOU: “a cave of robbers [or insurrectionists] you have made my house”), conflated with Isa. 56:7, to denounce the Judean Temple cultic practices (Mk. 11:17).

(8) Both Jesuses specifically pronounce woes (OUAI or AIAI) on the people (LAOS) of Jerusalem and/or Judea (_J.W._, VI. 304, 306, 309 and Mk. 13:17)

(9) Both Jesuses pronounce doom upon the Temple (NAOS) itself ( _J.W._, VI. 300, 309 and Mk. 13:2).

(10) Both Jesuses are arrested by or at the instigation of Jerusalem leaders. Jesus, son of Ananias, is arrested by some of Jerusalem’s leading or distinguished citizens (TWN . . . EPISHMWN TINES DHMOTWN: _J.W._, VI.. 302), and the Markan Jesus is arrested by an armed crowd sent by the chief priests, scribes and elders (Mk. 14:43).

(11) In their respective hearings before Jerusalem leaders (i.e., the “Jewish hearings”), each Jesus is either chastised for or accused of making an inflammatory pronouncement against the Temple. Jesus, son of Ananias, is chastised for “his ill-omened words” against the Temple, as well as the city and its people (_J.W._, VI. 302 ). The Markan Jesus is accused (but falsely so, according to Mark) of vowing that he would destroy the Temple and build another in three days (Mk. 14:58).

(12) Both Jesuses in their Jewish hearings keep their respective silence in the face of the charges made against them with regard to their respective pronouncements against the Temple (_J.W._, VI. 302 and Mk. 14:60f.).

(13) Both Jesuses are physically abused at their Jewish hearings. Jesus, the son of Ananias, is struck by certain ones (TOUS PAIONTAS) at his hearing (_J.W._, VI. 302 ). The Markan Jesus at his hearing is spit upon, people begin “to strike [KOLAFIZEIN] him” and “the guards [when it is all over] received him with blows” (Mk. 14:65).

(14) Following their respective Jewish hearings, both Jesuses are delivered over to the Roman procurator by Jerusalem authorities. In the case of Jesus, son of Ananias (Josephus _J.W._, VI. 302f.), he was “brought before the Roman governor,” Albinus, by hOI ARCONTES (“the rulers” or “magistrates,” as Thackeray translates the Greek term). The Markan Jesus is “delivered” to Pilate by the chief priests, the elders, scribes, and the whole counsel(?) (Mk. 15:1).

(15) In their respective hearings before the Roman governor (i.e., their “Roman hearings”), both Jesuses are interrogated by their respective governor: Jesus, son of Ananias, by Albinus (_J.W._, VI. 305) and the Markan Jesus by Pilate (Mk. 15:2-4).

(16) Both Jesuses are asked by the Roman governor in their Roman hearings to disclose their respective identities. Jesus, the son of Ananias, was asked by Albinus, TIS T’ EIH KAI POQEN (“who and whence he was:” _J.W._, VI. 305), and the Markan Jesus is asked by Pilate, SU EI hO BASILEUS TWN IOUDAIWN (“Are you the king of the Judeans?”: Mk.15:2).

(17) Each procurator, once having interrogated the Jesus brought before him, moves then to release “his Jesus.” In the case of Albinus, having “pronounced [Jesus, son of Ananias] a maniac,” APELUSEN AUTON (“released him” or “let him go,” as Thackeray translates the Greek: _J.W._, VI. 305). In the case of Pilate, he appears to move to release the Markan Jesus, but he leaves the decision to the crowd as to whether Jesus should be released. The crowd, having been stirred up by the chief priests to reject Pilate’s offer to release Jesus, demands that Jesus be crucified instead. Pilate acquiesces to their demand (Mk. 15:6-15).

(18) Both Jesuses are scourged at the conclusion of their respective Roman hearings. Jesus, son of Ananias, is scourged either by Albinus or by others in his presence (_J.W._, VI. 304), and the Markan Jesus is scourged by Pilate (15.15b).

(19) Both Jesuses are killed by the Roman soldiers. Jesus, son of Ananias, is, as fate would have it (cf. _J.W._, VI. 308: “he [Jesus, son of Ananias] found his rest”), killed by a stone “hurled from EK TOU PETROBOLOU (“the *ballista*,” a Roman catapult, siege-weapon: see _J.W._, VI, 309). The Markan Jesus is crucified by Roman soldiers (15:16, 20-24).

(20) Both Jesuses let out a woeful cry of personal woe just before dying. Jesus, son of Ananias, “while going his round and shouting in piercing tones from the wall, ‘Woe once more to the city and to the people and to the Temple,’” appends to his familiar mantra a word of personal woe. Namely, he cries out as the stone strikes him, “and woe to me also” (_J.W._, VI. 309). The Markan Jesus, at the ninth hour and just before dying, cries out from the cross a plaintive personal woe in a loud voice, namely: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34).

(21) Both Jesuses die with a loud cry. Jesus, son of Ananias, the piercing cry just cited “still upon his lips, THN YUCHN AFHKE” (“died”or “passed away,” as Thackeray translates the Greek: Josephus _J.W._, VI. 309), and the Markan Jesus, having “uttered a loud cry, EXEPNEUSEN” (“died” : Mk. 15:27).

(22) In both the “Jesus” stories, the term for Temple used in the syntax of their reputed pronouncements against the Temple is NAOS (_J.W._, VI. 301, 309 and Mk.14:58). This is a particularly interesting linguistic features the texts share in view of the fact that, except for this particular Markan linguistic parallel with the Josephus story, with respect to the use of NAOS as a term for Temple, Mark, otherwise routinely chooses to use the term hIEROS when he makes reference to the Temple in his narrative (11:11, 15, 16, 27; 12:35; 13:1,3; 14:49). Only in 14:58 (when the charge is presented— falsely so, according to Mark— that Jesus vowed that he would destroy the Temple), in 15:29, (where Jesus is mocked with that charge in the taunt at the cross: 15:29), and in 15:38 (where Mark seeks to vindicate Jesus’ attack on the Temple cult through the narration of the apparent divine rending of the Temple veil) does Mark choose to use NAOS as a term for the Temple rather than hIEROS.

In my judgment this significant list of 22 parallels is not only striking but stunning in its possible implications. Put quite simply: the parallelism existing between the two stories is provocative and demands an answer to the obvious question: How can one account for these 22 narrative points at which there are such a close parallels between Josephus’ story of Jesus, son of Ananias, and Mark’s story of Jesus?

The question raised is not the validity or reality of the parallels but how to explain them:

E. Possible Explanations for the Parallels between the Two “Jesus” Stories

As I see it there are four possible explanations for the existence of such close thematic and, in some instances, linguistic parallels between the Markan portrayal of Jesus and Josephus’ portrayal of Jesus, son of Ananias. The four possible explanations are the following:

(1) Pure coincidence. The apparent parallels between the two stories are but a matter of just pure coincidence. That is certainly possible, but I think, given the extensive number of close parallels between the two stories, it is highly unlikely that all 22 instances of parallelism can be chalked up to coincidence. .

Weeden thus counters one of O’Neill’s points. The second point zeroes in on both Evans’ and (to best of my understanding) O’Neill’s argument. I have bolded Weeden’s response:

(2) Normative character of conventional judicial and penal processes. As noted earlier on, Evans chose to account for the parallels, particularly linguistic parallels, which he detected between the two Jesus stories, as nothing more than “what one would expect.” To cite him again (361, n. 46): “[T]he ‘parallels’ comprise no more than nouns of place and context and verbs that mark the various steps in the judicial and penal process. In other words, the parallels are precisely what one would expect in cases where routine actions are being described.” In lieu of the additional parallels, beyond Evans’ “parallels,” which I have listed above, I think the close narrative correspondences (thematic and linguistic)— the similar narrative settings (Temple, festivals, Jewish hearing, Roman hearing) and similar narrative sequence of events (provocative pronouncement/act by the Jesus-subject in Temple precincts, the subject’s arrest by Jewish authorities, his Jewish hearing, deliverance to Roman governor, Roman hearing, refusal to respond to charges at hearings, death at the hands of the Romans, and finally the Jesus-subject’s evoking of a woeful loud cry at the moment of death)— which the two “Jesus” stories share in common obtains for reasons other than “what nouns of place and context and verbs that mark the various steps in the judicial and penal process . . . [and] what one would expect in cases where routine actions are being described” can adequately account for.

We come now to a new alternative that does have relevance for the question of the historicity of the gospel account of Jesus’ fate:

(3) Literary dependency. The unusual number of close parallels between the two “Jesus” stories could be explained as due to the fact that either Josephus had access to the Markan Gospel or Mark had access to Josephus’ _The Jewish Wars_, at least Book VI. If there were such literary dependency, who is likely to have been dependent upon whom? Since Josephus pays so little attention to Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian movement (only mentioned twice briefly in _Ant._, XVIII. 63-64 [with latter Christian emendations] and _Ant._, XX. 200), it is very doubtful that Josephus is dependent upon the Gospel of Mark for the inspiration to create his story of Jesus, son of Ananias. Besides, why would Josephus have invented such a story? If, as Josephus indicates, Jesus, son of Ananias, did harangue against Jerusalem, its people and the Temple for seven years and five months, from the Feast of Tabernacles in autumn of 62 CE to late winter of 70 CE (_J.W._, VI, 300), and particularly during the various festivals (_J.W._, VI, 307f.), it is most likely that someone who survived the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple would have known whether or not such a person as Jesus, son of Ananias, actually existed, and thus would have been able to challenge Josephus’ veracity, if such a story were only Josephus’ invention.

If on the other hand, Mark is literarily dependent upon Josephus for the story, that dependency is certainly not slavish with respect to vocabulary and syntax. Moreover, Mark gives no hint of being otherwise familiar with Josephus’ works, for example Josephus’ take on John the Baptist (_Ant._, XVIII. 116-119). If Mark is dependent upon Josephus for thematic material from the story of Jesus, son of Ananias, Mark could not have been written before 79 CE, the generally accepted date of the composition of Josephus’ _Jewish Wars_ (see Louis Feldman, “Josephus,” in _ABD_, III, 983f.). I think it is very unlikely that there is literary dependency of either author upon the other. Thus, I am not persuaded that direct literary dependency is an explanation for the parallels between the two stories.

But then a highly reputable scholar comes down on the side of the argument Tim O’Neill is attempting to portray as “unscholarly”:

(4) Oral dependency. It is possible that these striking, I would say, stunning and provocative, parallels, could be due to the fact that both Mark and Josephus are dependent upon the oral circulation of the story of Jesus, son of Ananias, which became a part of the folklore of stories which were generated following the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. If there was such a person as Jesus, son of Ananias, and if he did harangue against the Temple for almost seven and a half years, then such a story may well have become well enough known and have developed into a sufficiently stable oral form such that Josephus and Mark both had access to it. If that be the case, then it appears that the story of Jesus, son of Ananias, may well have served as a model for Mark to develop a good part of, or at least an outline for, significant elements of his passion narrative, as well as providing other motifs which Mark found helpful in fleshing out his story of Jesus of Nazareth. If Mark were dependent upon such a story, his Gospel could not have been written before the summer of 70 CE, when the final siege of Jerusalem and the Temple occurred under Titus, the siege which led to the death of Ananias’ son, Jesus.

Theodore J. Weeden, Sr. 3/4/03

But so far we have only seen two scholars drop in their two cents. Are there any others?

Weeden introduced his arguments on the Crosstalk2 list (a list for scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus and Christian origins) so I cite below other scholarly contributions to this discussion from that list. I do not know the names of all persons cited or even if they are or were professional scholars, but I do know that most of them are and that their contributions were all seriously addressed on the scholarly list.

Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon.)

I recall Geza Vermes bringing up the parallel between the two Jesuses in a graduate seminar led by Ed Sanders.

6 Mar 2003

Mark Goodacre

The thesis of some kind of identification between the two figures was also played around with a bit on Xtalk once by Bill Arnal and Steve Davies . . . .

March 6, 2003

Also by Goodacre in the same discussion thread:

one of the closest parallels between Josephus on Jesus ben Ananus and the NT on Jesus comes in Matt. 23.37-39 // Luke 13.34-35. I argue in _The Case Against Q_ (pp. 23-5) that there are some interesting similarities here between Josephus and Matthew // Luke, e.g. in both oracles, one has the same thee-fold focus on the people, the city, the temple. Just as Jesus ben Ananus cries ‘a voice against Jerusalem . . .’, so too Jesus laments ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . .’. Just as ben Ananus singles out ‘the holy house’, so too Jesus says ‘behold your house is forsaken’. Just as ben Ananus raises ‘a voice against this whole people’, so too Jesus exclaims ‘how often would I have gathered your children . . .” To me it gently suggests Matthew and Luke may post-date Mark, but it’s rarely used in dating discussions because it is normally assigned to Q, which is usually thought to pre-date Mark.

Bob Schacht:

The parallels and similarities are certainly interesting

Mar 4, 2003

Horace Jeffery Hodges (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley)
Assistant Professor
Hanshin University (Korean Theological University)

Ted, interesting post. You may be onto something


But what about the possibility that it is Josephus who did the conflating?
After all, unless one discounts 100% as Christian insertions the references
to our Jesus in Josephus, the latter at least knew about the former, and
probably had access to additional information about him.

Mar 6 2003

David C. Hindley

E. P. Sanders, on the other hand, does treat the parallels between the charges brought against the Jesus of the Gospels and against Jesus son of Ananias (War 6.300-309) in _The Historical Figure of Jesus_ (Allen Lane/Penguin, 1993) page 267 . . . .

Sanders was certainly not the first to draw on these parallels. I found it treated in S. G. F. Brandon‘s flawed but interesting _Trial of Jesus of Nazareth_ (Dorset, 1968), page 89.

Mar 6, 2003

Richard Fellows

I agree that there are close parallels between the stories of Jesus of Nazareth and the story of Jesus, son of Ananias


I am suggesting that Jesus, son of Ananias, was influenced by Jesus of Nazareth.

Jan 31, 2005

Karel Hanhart

Doesn’t it make more sense to turn the argument around. In that case Mark’s gospel was doing the rounds in Rome, soon after 70 and Josephus in his Life mockingly referred to Mark’s crucifixion/resurrection narrative soon after the publication of Mark’s gospel.

Jan 31, 2005

Stephen C. Carlson

As for Jesus ben Ananias, I cannot help but wonder whether Josephus was colored by the case of Jesus of Nazareth in choosing which details to highlight and which ones to suppress

Feb 2, 2005

Conclusion. That the parallels are striking is a scholarly and credible observation and that some form of influence between them is a credible explanation.

The scholarly analysis and attempts to explain the parallels covered two periods on the discussion list, one in 2003 and again in 2005. I can present some of the ideas raised another time, but in brief the primary focus of discussion has been on how best to explain them. Does coincidence cover it? Is there a common narrative known to both Josephus and the evangelist? Did Josephus model ben Ananias on Jesus of Nazareth or the Gospel of Mark? Or did the evangelist model his Jesus on ben Ananias? Were both Jesus stories independently being modeled on a common “rejected wisdom” or other literary theme of the day? What are the implications for historicity and how ancient historians worked?

One or two individuals did try to question the validity of the parallels but their protests were presented without having read the initial arguments addressing the same criticisms they raised and they accordingly had no impact on the wider discussion.

There is much else and I would in particular like to address the fallacy of the Lincoln-Kennedy assassination parallels that O’Neill also introduces. But this post is already too lengthy. Another time.

At least I hope with this post that someone can see that the two Jesuses parallels are indeed noteworthy and credible and worthy of serious scholarly discussion.

Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.

Evans, Craig A. 1994. “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources.” In Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, edited by Bruce D. Chilton and Craig A. Evans, 443–78. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

O’Neill, Tim. 2019. “Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures.” History for Atheists (blog). February 25, 2019.

RA. 2015. “Jesus Never Existed.” RA (blog). November 3, 2015.

Weeden, Theodore J., Sr. 2003. “Two Jesuses: The Provocative Parallels.” XTalk: Historical Jesus & Christian Origins – Yahoo Groups.




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