THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Justus and Jewish heresy

Justus and Jewish heresy

And what of the religion of Justus, the secretary of Marcus Agrippa? We have already seen that Justus was the author of a lost hagiography of Marcus Julius Agrippa, the last king of Israel from the line of Moses. The only clue we can gain about his own beliefs is the fact that he is connected with the “John” upon whom Josephus heaps all the blame for the Jewish War. Remember, according to my theory, this “John” is the same as “Mark” – i.e., Marcus Julius Agrippa.

Justus begins by telling us who Josephus really was: the guerilla leader who led the revolt against his master Marcus Julius Agrippa. Yet this only tells part of the story. We learn from Josephus' historical rebuttal that Justus claimed that Josephus' men attacked government convoys, stole grain, property, and money from the official treasury. He must have argued in fact that these men were not acting independantly but under orders from Josephus who actively campaigned against Marcus Julius Agrippa and only indirectly against the Roman authorities who supported him. But Josephus says something more which is always missed by scholars: Justus shows that the motivation for the war was religious. It wasn't just about political matters but more importantly new religious ideas which Marcus Julius Agrippa seemed to be ushering into the age. The forces lined up on the side of Marcus Julius Agrippa seemed to have one version of religious orthodoxy ("new covenant"/messianic), while those on the side of the house of Gorius (i.e., Nicodemus, Simon, Josephus) were conservative Pharisees and had another. The fate of the identity of Judaism lay in the balance. As corroboration we may take the clear physical evidence of the synagogues of the capitol, Tiberias, "offending" the orthodoxy of the Pharisees. Josephus rebuts Justus' original charge in Life, 12

I sent messengers to the senate of Tiberias, and desired that the principal men of the city would come to me: and when they were come, Justus himself being also with them, I told them that I was sent to them by the people of Jerusalem as a legate, together with these other priests, in order to persuade them to demolish that house which Herod the tetrarch had built there, and which had the figures of living creatures in it, although our laws have forbidden us to make any such figures; and I desired that they would give us leave so to do immediately. But for a good while Capellus and the principal men belonging to the city would not give us leave, but were at length entirely overcome by us.

According to Josephus' practice, while he admits he had the motivation to carry out the burning of these buildings, he blames the supporters of Marcus Julius Agrippa: a certain "Jesus" supposedly "took with him certain Galileans, and set the entire palace on fire, and thought he should get a great deal of money thereby, because he saw some of the roofs gilt with gold." It was "Jesus" the brother, or "brother-in-law," of Justus and "his party" whom Josephus blames for having "slain all the Greeks that were inhabitants of Tiberias, and as many others as were their enemies before the war began." Josephus washes his hands of the bloodbath which Justus certainly accused him of precipitating and attempts to get around the fact that he was linked with all the stolen booty attributed to "Jesus," saying, "when I understood this state of things, I was greatly provoked, and went down to Tiberias, and took all the care I could of the royal furniture, to recover all that could be recovered from such as had plundered it. They consisted of candlesticks made of Corinthian brass, and of royal tables, and of a great quantity of uncoined silver; and I resolved to preserve whatsoever came to my hand for the king."

There are countless surviving examples of these "Marcionite" synagogues (i.e., those with "graven images") dotting the landscape of Galilee to this day, and they represent only one aspect of the original religious call to arms at the heart of the Jewish insurgency. In another section we hear Josephus answer the charges that he ordered his men forcibly to circumcise those whom Marcus Agrippa's messianic religion allowed to remain uncircumcized. We read:

At this time it was that two great men, who were under the jurisdiction of the king [Agrippa] came to me out of the region of Trachonius, bringing their horses and their arms, and carrying with them their money also; and when the Jews would force them to be circumcised, if they would stay among them, I would not permit them to have any force put upon them, but said to them, "Every one ought to worship God according to his own inclinations, and not to be constrained by force; and that these men, who had fled to us for protection, ought not to be so treated as to repent of their coming hither." [Life, 23]

The discovery that Marcus Julius Agrippa allowed or even encouraged members of his religious order to remain uncircumcized is only one part of the original puzzle of Josephus' historical response to Justus' Chronicle. When you begin to factor in the uncirumcision, the ornate synagogues, and the scraps of information we get from Justus' "sanctioned" hagiography of his master Mark (where Agrippa stood at the end of direct historical line which began with Moses), we can begin to see what we are dealing with here. Josephus and the Jewish rebellion must have been deliberately provoked through the emerging of Marcus Julius Agrippa as the awaited messiah of Israel. The Pharisees hated Agrippa, and the act of sanctioning him as a new Moses with the authority to enact a “new Law” threw the country into open rebellion. All of this put Josephus in an awkward position after being captured and castrated in the era after the destruction of the temple. How could he blame his former enemy in an age where he had completely won over the ruling house of Rome? His only hope was to shift the blame to the Galilean messianic tradition which was only secretly connected with Agrippa through his alter-ego “John,” as he was known among the Jews.

Yet before we get into all of these discussions about Justus’ place in the Samaritan tradition we should pay even more careful attention to the testimony of the Karaites. While most people don’t know very much about either tradition, it is best to define the Karaites in the most general terms as Jews who rejected the authority of the Talmud of John ha Nappah. What is most interesting here is that they themselves are founded by yet another “John-figure,” i.e., “Anan ben-David,” in the eighth century CE. What is useful about the Karaite testimony about Zadok is that the tenth-century Karaite polemicist Ya`qub al-Qirqisani in his Kitab al-anwar makes special note of a certain Zadok who at the end of the Second Temple era is described as “an early opponent of the Rabbanites (i.e., Pharisees) and credits him with the production of ‘books’ wherein he challenged their interpretive positions.” In any case, the basic Karaite position was to claim this Zadok as a precursor to Anan, the founder of the Karaites, who waged his own war against the rabbinic tradition.

Schlomo Pines develops an understanding of Qirqisani’s testimony regarding certain Qaraites (Karaites) (qawm min al-qara'in) where

[a]ccording to this group, Jesus was a pious man, whose teaching was similar to that of Zadoq and to that of 'Anan, the founder of the Qaraite sect. The Rabbanites sought to kill him as they sought to kill 'Anan, succeeding in the first case and failing in the second. Immediately afterwards Qirqisani states that Christian religion as it is now (al-an) was founded by Paul, who taught the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus and dispensed altogether with legal commandments.

I’ll be frank, just so we do not lose sight of the forest for the many, many trees: These and other parallels serve to tie together the figures of Justus the Galilean, Justin the Samaritan Christian, Zadok the Jew, and Zadok the Dosithean as representaions of one and the same person. That said, let us go on to other curious parallels which will now appear in a new light:

a) The Jewish “John” (Johanon ben-Zakkai) saves R. Zadok from the destruction of the seige of Jerusalem; Berenice the sister of Mark is credited with sparing Justus.

b) The Samaritan chronicler Abul Fath mentions a sect headed by a R. Zadok which was tied to the heretic who claimed to be the “booth” or “booths” of the new Tabernacle. He speaks of “five brothers who from [the Samaritan holy mountain Gerizim] who were called [the Sons of Zadoq] and also another man called Zadoq the Elder from Bayt Far who deviated from “booths” and his companions, saying that Mount Gerizim is as holy as if the Samaritan temple were [still] standing upon it and that while one was obligated to do what was written [in the Law of Moses] he need not do what was not possible for him.” His community apparently “invoked him by the name mentioned [in the report of Booths] above, i.e. the Mediator, and agreed with [Booths] about abolishing … the rule of “Moses commanded for us a Law” [Deut 33:4]

d) Josephus’ applied to his opponent Justus the epithet thaumasiotatos (Cont. Ap., I, ix,), just as Tatian refers to his master “Justin” as thaumasiotatos Ioustinos.

e) Tatian writes that “[t]he most admirable Justin rightly declared that the aforesaid demons resembled robbers (Tatian's Address to the Greeks, chap. xviii). Compare that if you will to the same belief recorded by R. Zadok in the early rabbinic tradition that “[t]he Giants were born from them [i.e. the fallen angels/demons], those who were insolent and arrogant and who deliberately engaged in robbery, violent behavior, and the shedding of innocent blood, as Scripture attests: ‘and there we beheld the Nefilim, etc.’ (Num 13:33), and it says: ‘the Nefilim were in the land’ (Gen 6:4). [Genesis Rabbah 29]

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