THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Rory Boid's response to Steve Mason (part 1)

Rory Boid's response to Steve Mason (part 1)

There is too much here to respond to in one go, so what follows is not to be regarded as systematic.

I thought the question was whether what is given in numerous sources about Agrippa I and Agrippa II actually referred to a single person. The veracity of the evidence from multiple sources, including Philo, that there was an Agrippa that did what Josephus says was done by the first Agrippa neither proves nor disproves the hypothesis that there was only ever one Agrippa. The argument is circular, unless I have missed something.

There is still the Rabbinic tradition that there was only one Agrippa. This is a statement in a systematic treatise of early date based on older tradition, as well as the implication of all relevant pericopes or notices in early texts. The fact that this datum is left out of the handbooks neither proves nor disproves its truth or falsity, but it does illustrate the sloppiness of much historical writing. I won’t name the systematic record, or cite the main loci in other texts, because all are as accessible and familiar as Josephus’s Against Apion.

As for Josephus’s clear assertion that there were two Agrippas, this is close in form to his duplication of Simon the Just. In the same way as he has nothing much to say about one Simon, he has nothing much to say about one Agrippa. Historians of the period often disagree about recent events. To take a salient example, Josephus warns against accepting what Justus says, but regardless of who was more accurate, both were read. Splitting one figure into two is not something that would readily be picked up, if the facts recorded were otherwise true or plausible.

None of this proves there was only one Agrippa. I merely point out that the evidence that there were two reduces to Josephus, since no-one else ever says “this Agrippa that I’m telling you about was the second”. Josephus has nothing distinctive to record about the second Agrippa. He says that what is distinctive about the second Agrippa is that there was nothing distinctive about him, whereas the first one was distinctive, so they were distinct from each other. The Rabbinic tradition therefore has equal weight. What the answer is I don’t know. I only say that presenting a situation as being simple by ignoring some of the evidence is not the way. If even the existence of the evidence is not known, that is worse. So macht man nicht Wissenschaft.

I can’t see how it could be thought that it had been proposed that Josephus had made up a second Agrippa as an amalgam of different people. What was proposed was that the components of the account of the death of one person could have been taken from existing accounts.

The answer to the question of which is right, the Rabbinic tradition or Josephus, will have to come from the coins.

The reminder about the special ominousness [pun intended] of the horned owl for Romans is valuable. At this point I am outside my culture area. All species of owls are regarded as neutral or beneficent in Syria-Palestine. I will have to find out when the medical term bubo came to be used in Latin.

As to Agrippa’s symptoms. Either there never was an Agrippa I, and Josephus made the symptoms up; or otherwise there was an Agrippa I, but Josephus has embellished the symptoms of his fatal ailment. The list of symptoms fits no known ailment, according to my inquiries. Anyone suffering from kidney failure will not have the other symptoms listed, and what is distinctly missing from the list is the skin discolouration and the lassitude. Adding gangrene to the list still does not cover all the symptoms. You could add measles or scarlet fever to explain the fever and chickenpox to explain the itching and Crone’s disease to explain the irritation of the gut. Some of the symptoms fit secondary syphilis, the stage appearing fairly suddenly several years after the first infection. This could be called a disease of the groin, I suppose. The most obvious symptom is flushing or redness over large parts of the body, which Josephus does not mention. This is not a complete answer. Some of the symptoms don’t fit syphilis. Syphilis at the secondary stage is not yet fatal. My personal opinion is that Josephus added symptoms from his own imagination so that it would seem that this was no ordinary syphilis, but a unique ailment miraculously brought into existence to show that Agrippa had been slain by divine wrath for his impiety. That would then prove to the readers that what he had said must have been impious.

Now we come to something really serious. The triple question marks against the reference to Agrippa having had the title of Christ really perturb me. The entire Jewish tradition, together with all Christian commentators of the first centuries, agree that the Christ mentioned in ch. IX of Daniel was Marcus Agrippa. None of these Christian authors confused the identity of Jesus with Agrippa. This was because they knew what the title meant in each regard. Later Christian commentators are divided. Of those that say it is Jesus, none are offended by the other view. To my knowledge, the very first Christian author to be offended by this interpretation was Calvin, when he found the identification with Agrippa in Rashi’s commentary on Daniel. He was all the more annoyed because he knew Rashi is authoritative unless there is evidence otherwise in a particular case, and he had found out that there was no disagreement. My observation is that modern American evangelicals are offended in the same way as Calvin for the same reason, once they find this out, but I digress. [To be scrupulously exact: Sa’adya Ga’on dissents, but has no tradition to cite, and gives a personal reasoned opinion. Maimonides avoids being explicit but implicitly agrees]. That does not mean Daniel has been correctly read. There is the obvious difficulty of anachronism. A point of dogma is not in itself proof of a historical fact, though it can, as in this case, be an indicator of an old tradition as to how people thought. This is certainly how Daniel has been read from soon after Agrippa’s death. The question is whether Agrippa considered himself to be the Christ or MashiaŠł• of Daniel, or in other words, whether the tradition goes back as far as Agrippa. Tracing it back to soon after his death is straightforward. Confusion with the title Christ applied to Jesus is not productive. The title did not come into existence with Jesus. Two persons could be called Christ in the time of Agrippa: a real King and a real High Priest. (I say “real” because the anointment of a High Priest in the full sense was not possible for Jews or Samaritans at the time. For Samaritans it has to do with the occultation of the Tabernacle and for Jews it had to do with the absence of a visible sign of Divine participation in the Temple service after the end of the First Temple . Essentially both Samaritans and Jews agreed. Jesus was given the title for complicated reasons that need not be brought up here).

The reason for going into this last point at such length is that it is not sound scientific method to reject a proposition as nonsense before you know what it is that is being said.

I hope all this is useful.

No comments: