In my previous post I began to deal with the first of two arguments that Craig Evans provides from Josephus. Craig wants to argue that Josephus, a first-century Jewish authority, explicitly indicates that Romans allowed Jews to provide decent burials for their dead. In this first argument Craig provides a concatenation of passages from Josephus that together, Craig argues, indicate that Jews would not leave a corpse (such as that of Jesus) on the cross, but would provide a burial for it. Here is the argument again.
“Josephus asserts the same thing. The Romans, he says, do not require “their subjects to violate their national laws” (Against Apion 2.73). The Jewish historian and adds that the Roman procurators who succeeded Agrippa I “by abstaining from all interference with the customs of the country kept the nation at peace” (Jewish War 2.220), customs that included never leaving a “corpse unburied” (Against Apion 2.211).
I dealt with the first quotation in yesterday’s post, where I pointed out that in Against Apion Josephus is not referring to burial practices but to idolatry: Jews were not forced to worship representations of the emperor against their customs. Even if one generalizes the point broadly to say that Romans never forced Jews to do anything contrary to their customs, I argued that (a) this is not true and (b) leaving Jesus’ body on the cross would not require Jews to violate their customs because it was not Jews who put him on the cross in the first place. Jewish law applied to Jews, not to Romans, and it was Romans who executed Jesus. Jews of course would not have liked for bodies to remain unburied – just as they would not have liked other things Romans did, such as ruling the promised land and requiring Jews to pay tribute. But in some instances, Romans frankly didn’t care what the Jews liked and didn’t liked. When it came to punishing enemies of the state, Romans did what they thought was in their own best self-interests. In my reading of the sources, this included not just crucifying enemies, but also leaving their bodies exposed to the elements and scavenging animals.
Now I can turn to the other two quotations.
2) The second one, taken from the Jewish War, is a bit puzzling to me: I’m not sure why Craig quotes it. Here Josephus indicates that Roman procurators after Agrippa I did not interfere with Jewish customs. But Agrippa 1 ruled Judea over a decade after Jesus. The “procurators who succeeded” him were later. This passage is not talking about what was happening under the rule of Pontius Pilate during the days of Jesus. Possibly Craig is quoting it to say what Roman procurators *typically* did? If so, it flies in the face of what we know about Pilate specifically, as I have shown at length in previous posts. Pilate was completely brutal and did not give a toss for Jewish sensitivities, at least according to the only two sources that we have that speak about his reign, one of whom happens to be Josephus.
3) I find the third quotation, this one coming again from Against Apion, also to be of little relevance. Craig does not indicate, again, what the context is within which this comment is made. So let me unpack it here.
At this point of his treatise Josephus is summarizing the laws given by Moses in the Hebrew Bible, as a way of showing just how upright Jews are ethically and socially. Jews are not immoral reprobates the way their intellectual, pagan adversary Apion claimed. They are highly moral, engaging in all sorts of upright and admirable activities, because they do what the great lawgiver told them to do. In making a very long list of the things that Jews were enjoined to do by Moses, Josephus mentions the law that bodies were to be buried. It should be noted: Josephus here is not describing the social realities of life in Judea: he is summarizing what Jews were commanded to do by Moses. This involve lots and lots of things, some practiced and some, obviously (as I will show) not.
To give you the sense of how much this is an off-the-cuff comment and that it is not a description of social realities…
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