This is a review, for memory’s sake, of an article related to my eventual thesis.
Entitled, Portents in Josephus and in the Gospels, the author, S.V. McCasland makes the case that the ‘signs’ of Josephus were of pagan origin, rather than of Hebrew style. He begins by quoting Bultmann in noting that the literary form of the author, in this case both Josephus and the Evangelists, cannot be seen as an “aesthetic” concept but must be rather understood as a sociological one. For Mark, then, we have to understand not just what we expect Mark to be saying as Jew, but as a Jew in a Roman world, and perhaps, look more closely for the Sitz im Leben, beginning there and only then seek to perform a proper exegetical surgery. We understand Josephus’ station in life, as he was a former Jewish officer who was caught by Vespasian, and turning traitor, because the chief propagandist of the Imperial Cult, going so far as to declare Vespasian the Jewish Messiah. But, what is Mark’s? In this, I have to agree with S.J. Case who writes,
Every statement in the records is to be judged by the degree of its suitableness to the distinctive environment of Jesus, on the one hand, and to that of the framers of the gospel tradition at one or another stage in the history of Christian on the other.
In examining the three selected passages, they have been singled out exactly because they suit the determined sitz im leben more so than the previous suggested situation and context, because they find suitable historical referents which settle Mark’s sitz im leben.
McCasland suggests that the miracles stories are made difficult to suggest by the fact that some are explainable while others are not. Healings would fall into the first category, but expulsion of demons into the latter. He also suggests that they are made difficult by our inability to determine the context, from language to location, of when they were first produced. Given that the Gospels were given in an oral society, it would behoove us then to try to determine similarities with other stories and to, again, examine every record by whether or not they are suitable to the time of Jesus. This feeds into the goal of his paper, to determine the original place of the signs mentioned in Josephus which were to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem.
Here, for future reference, McCasland draws me away from worrying about the origin of Tacitus’ voice which he mentioned coming from the Temple, as he is able to piece together the portents which Josephus used, including a divine voice.
I note his statement, “To catalogue the woes that shall precede the messianic age is the usual device of this literature.” Later, he notes that only Matthew and Luke use portents to describe the birth of Christ and a few to describe the death of Christ. (326)
McCaseland notes that the prophet of which Josephus spoke was the only Hebrew element to his story, with everything else, including dreams and signs, being a regular feature in pagan tales. (329; see also 330).
He notes on 331 that the “flames of war were fed by Messianic expectations.” This is true in the case of one of the identified historical referents. He concludes on 332 that “There is no sufficient reason to doubt that these portents of Josephus are a true reflection of the apocalyptic mind in Jerusalem.
I find it ironic that as Rome was adopting Jewish Messianic signs to proclaim the Roman Emperor Messiah, the Jews were busy adopting pagan references to proclaim him not.
Of interest is the dating of Josephus to the years between 75-79. He notes, further, that Josephus wrote them down in 70, giving the solidification of the legend only five years to take hold (334).