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Was Judas the Galilean the historical Jesus?
1. Jesus was born in 8-4 BCE (Matthew) and in 6 CE at the Census of Cyrenius (Luke). Judas was mentioned by Josephus in 4 BCE, relating to the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing (Ant. 17.149-167) and in 6 CE, regarding the Census of Cyrenius (Ant. 18.1-10) The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are both inconsistent with the reign of Pilate and the ministry of John the Baptist. For example, if Jesus were born in 4 BCE and died thirty-three years later, then he would have died around 30 CE, during the reign of Pilate but five years before John the Baptist’s death. (Ant. 18.116-119) If Jesus were born in 6 CE and died thirty-three years later, then he would have died in 39 CE, a few years after John the Baptist but two years after Pilate left Judea. Both accounts appear historically flawed. These two birth narratives were strategically placed in an era when Judas the Galilean’s ministry flourished. This deception moved the adult Jesus thirty years away from Judas the Galilean, thus hiding the Messiah’s true identity. This misdirection by the Gospel writers has worked brilliantly. Very few scholars have even considered Jesus outside of the 30 CE timeframe. This is even more disturbing considering Jesus’ brother, James, was purported to be ninety-six years old in 62 CE. Even if this slightly exaggerates his age by ten years, James’ birth date can be estimated at approximately 35-25 BCE. Jesus was the older brother and could not have been born any later than 25 BCE.
It should be asked: why would Matthew and Luke pick different dates for the Messiah’s birth? If one solid date existed, then both Gospel writers should have easily followed that lone date. However, if the writers were trying to present an alternate date, then it might have been possible for each to tie his birth date to a different event. Matthew tied his birth date to the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing while Luke used the Census of Cyrenius, the two major events in Judas the Galilean’s career.
2. This second coincidence relates to Matthew’s Star of Bethlehem story which was placed in 4 BCE (See number 1). In the Gospel of Matthew, the magi were drawn to Jerusalem by a star, near the end of Herod the Great’s reign, around 4 BCE. These Magi found the baby Jesus but did not return to Herod to report the findings. Herod was incensed and ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem, two years old and younger.
In the Slavonic Josephus, Persian astrologers went to Herod the Great identifying the star in the sky and explaining its significance. Herod insisted they return to him after finding the infant. However, the astrologers were warned by the stars to avoid Herod on the return trip. In his rage, Herod wanted to kill all the male children throughout his kingdom. His advisors convinced him that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, hoping to confine the slaughter to only Bethlehem. This Star of Bethlehem passage was inserted in the War during the early years of Herod, between 27-22 BCE. (1)
This Slavonic Josephus passage originated from the same source which supplied the Gospel version. The Slavonic text has some interesting details which are missing from Matthew. Matthew wrote that the chief priests and teachers of the law informed Herod that the infant would be born in Bethlehem. He then sent the Magi to Bethlehem and ordered them to return when they had located the infant. (Matt. 2:3-8) This version does not give Herod much credit, for if he really knew that a king would be born in Bethlehem, he would have had every child slaughtered in Bethlehem before the Magi could even reach the place. On the other hand, the Slavonic version had Herod learning about the location after waiting for the Persian astrologers to return. This blunder on Herod’s part wasted precious time, allowing the infant’s parents to escape. Herod’s advisors also told Herod the meaning of the Star. This star was the promised Star Prophecy, which told of a leader coming from Judah. (Numbers 24:17) The same sentiment was included in Matthew 2:6, but this quote from Micah 5:2 promised that a ruler would come from Bethlehem. All in all, the two versions have much in common and vary very little, the difference being the time: 25 BCE versus 4 BCE.
If Jesus were born in 25 BCE, then he would have been 30 years old at the time of the census (6 CE). This was the exact time when John baptized in the Jordan and proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. (2) This date was also marked by the nationwide tax revolt led by Judas the Galilean, the historical Jesus. (Ant. 18.4)
3. The genealogy of Jesus can also be compared to information known about Judas the Galilean. In Matthew 1:15 and Luke 3:24, a Mattan and Matthat are listed as great grandfathers. Since the Gospels added a few generations to distance Jesus from Judas, these great grandfathers may have been Jesus’ father. Judas’s father may have been Matthias, a name closely resembling Mattan and Matthat.
On Mary’s side, a similarity exists concerning the town of Sepphoris. In Christian tradition, Mary’s family came from Sepphoris. Judas was also linked to Sepphoris by Josephus. It was written that Judas was the son of Sepphoris, or rather from Sepphoris, and he also raided the armory at Sepphoris. Certainly, Judas was well acquainted with this town.
4. Herod the Great planned to execute Judas after the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing. Luckily for Judas, Herod ordered to have his prisoners put to death after his own death, in order to create great sorrow in Israel. After Herod’s death, his advisors reneged on the insane plan. (Ant. 17.149-167) According to the Gospels, Herod the Great tried to kill the baby Jesus. (Matt. 2) Herod’s goal of eliminating Jesus ended with his own death. In both stories, an elderly paranoid Herod tried to destroy elements he perceived as being a threat to his rule. Of course, the infant narrative was not actual history but rather a replay of Moses’ infancy.
5. Joseph returned to Israel after the death of Herod the Great but was afraid to settle in Judea because of Archelaus. Having been warned in a dream, Joseph moved his family to Nazareth, in Galilee. (Matt. 2:19-23) The New Testament often moved characters by using dreams, miracles or visions. For example, Philip was whisked away after baptizing the eunuch in Acts 8:39-40. Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea was preceded by a vision in Acts chapter 10. And the Magi did not return to King Herod because they were warned in a dream. (Matt. 2:12) All three of these examples have alternative explanations. Philip and the eunuch as well as Peter and Cornelius were patterned after the account of King Izates given by Josephus. (Ant. 20.34-48) And as noted in number 2, the Slavonic Josephus explained the Persian astrologers’ decision to avoid Herod differently. Either the Star of Bethlehem convinced them not to return to Herod or they had talked to the locals about the King and decided to go home by another route. The point is this: when trying to reconstruct historical events, it may be wise to discount the passages which depend upon a literary devise such as a dream or vision.
After being released by Archelaus, Judas went to Sepphoris in Galilee, where he led an uprising against the son of Herod. (War 2.56) Sepphoris was in the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, not under the control of Archelaus. Since Archelaus was waging war upon the followers of Judas and Matthias, the move to Galilee was prudent in that it allowed reorganization without fear of being attacked by Archelaus. The events in Josephus and the New Testament both occurred because Herod the Great had died and the country was in unrest.
1. Slavonic Josephus, After War 1.400.
2. Ibid., After War 2.110.
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