Why Do Josephus And The Gospels Contradict Each Other About John The Baptist?

By Evan Minton

 

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus was born in A.D 37. In about A.D 90, he wrote his book “Antiquities Of The Jews” in which he writes a history of the Jewish people. In this work, he mentions several individuals who appear in The New Testament such as Jesus, James’, the brother of Jesus, Caiaphas, King Herod the Great, and John The Baptist, among several others. With regards to John The Baptist, Josephus says that King Herod (Antipas) killed him, just as The New Testament does. Josephus writes “Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the Baptist. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. …. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt — for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise — believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret. And so John, out of Herod’s suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.” (Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119)

Josephus Gospels John Baptist

Josephus said that the reason Herod killed John The Baptist was that Herod feared that John might lead a rebellion against him, and ergo overthrow him. However, this is not what The Bible says. Read Matthew’s account of John’s death in chapter 14. Matthew says that the reason Herod had John killed was that John was speaking out against Herod Antipas’ marriage because it was unlawful under The Old Testament law. Herodias had divorced her husband and married Herod Antipas. Now, this would have been fine if Herod’s brother had died, but since he was still alive, this was considered adultery. Matthew 14 says that it wasn’t Herod’s idea to have John killed, but that he was instead backed into a corner by promising Herodias’ daughter Salome that if she danced for him, he would give her anything she asked for. She danced, and, at the nudging of her mother, asked for John The Baptist’s head delivered on a platter.

So which is it? Who’s right? Is Josephus right or is Matthew right? Well, we might say; “Well, since The Bible is God’s word, it cannot err. So we must conclude that it was Matthew who is right and Josephus who is wrong”. Of course, this answer won’t suffice for the non-believer who doesn’t believe that The Bible is inspired.

Luke 8, I believe, provides us with the answer. Didn’t you ever wonder how would Matthew have gotten this information in the first place? After all, this happened in the privacy of Herod’s home. None of the disciples were there. Jesus wasn’t there. How did Matthew know what was going on behind closed doors? Luke 8:1-3 says “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (emphasis mine)

Luke tells us that one of Jesus’ followers had a family member who was the manager of Herod’s household. This would provide a plausible explanation for how Matthew could have known what was happening at Herod’s birthday party. Chuza told Joanna about this incident, and then Joanna told Jesus and the disciples. Matthew would then have this information to later record in his gospel.

What we can conclude, then, is that Matthew is right because he had better source information than Josephus! Matthew was actually told by someone who had a family member who worked for Herod Antipas why Herod Antipas had John The Baptist killed. Josephus was only speculating on Herod Antipas’ motive based on what appeared to be the case to him.

Now, one may object “But couldn’t Luke have simply made this Joanna person up simply to give us an explanation for how they knew about Herod’s motives?” My answer: No. It’s unlikely that Luke made up Joanna or lied about her husband working for Herod Antipas simply to answer the question of how they knew Herod Antipas’ motive. For one thing, this small detail isn’t mentioned in the context of Herod Antipas’ party. Herod Antipas’ party isn’t even mentioned in Luke 7, 8, or 9. If Luke provided this small detail simply to solve the problem, why didn’t he do it in the context of the party? Moreover, scholars have made good arguments that Luke’s gospel was written sometime in the 50s’ A.D when all of the eyewitnesses were still around and could have corrected Luke if he were making this up. Though it’s beyond the scope of this blog post to get into dating arguments. Thirdly, this is what New Testament scholars Tim and Lydia McGrew would call “Undesigned Coincidences”. An undesigned coincidence is when one gospel says something that raises a question, but another gospel mentions an incidental little detail that answers it. From what I recall, Luke never talks about Herod Antipas’ banquet. Matthew does, but Luke doesn’t. Matthew raised a question (i.e “how would he have known what went on at Antipas’ place?”) but Luke answered it (i.e “One of Jesus’ followers had a husband who was his household manager”).

 


Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2AOjnEe

Free CrossExamined.org Resource

Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.

Powered by ConvertKit
5 replies
  1. DagoodS says:

    What about the Gospel of Mark? Indeed, through the principle of fatigue, we can see exactly where the Gospel of Matthew obtained the information about John the Baptist’s beheading—from copying Mark!
    .
    Mark records the death of John the Baptist in Mark 6:14-26, wherein Herod Antipas believes Jesus may be John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Mark incorrectly titles Herod Antipas as “King” in vs. 14, 21, 25 and 26, whereas Herod Antipas never obtained the title “King” and was always a Tetrarch. (In fact, it was Antipas’ fight with Agrippa to obtain the title “King” that eventually cost Antipas his Tetrarch over Galilee, granting the Kingship to Agrippa.)
    .
    Mark, follows the story of Esther by having Antipas offer up to half his kingdom to Salome. Esther 5:3. (Albeit, it is odd Salome is there, Salome having now married Philip, Herodias’ ex-husband, and tetrarch of another land—Trachonitis.) Salome asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, and Antipas complies.
    .
    I presume most readers are familiar with the Synoptic Problem. If not, in very brief synopsis, scholars have long noted Matthew, Mark and Luke share material in common, some so similar that verbatim copying has taken place, and therefore there is literal (not verbal) copying happening. The question or Synoptic Problem is determining who copied whom.
    .
    Editorial fatigue would point to Matthew copying the Marcan story of John the Baptist’s demise. Fatigue is where one person is copying a story, making modifications to conform to the copyist’s point of view, but inadvertently leaving details from the first story that do not conform to the copyist’s point.
    .
    Mark, as previously pointed out, refers to Antipas as “King.” Matthew, in his story of Matthew 14:1-12, corrects Mark, and refers to Antipas with his correct title of “tetrarch.” However, in Matt 14:9, Matthew slips up continues to copy Mark verbatim. and refers once more to “the king”—a title Matthew should know is incorrect.
    .
    In Mark, Antipas feared John the Baptist and protected John from Herodias. In fact, Antipas liked to listen to John the Baptist. Once Herodias gets John’s death warrant, Antipas (under Mark’s writing) is understandably upset and grieved—he doesn’t want to kill John.
    .
    Matthew modifies Mark to say Antipas WANTS to kill John (instead of protecting him) but is afraid to because of the people. Nothing about protecting John. But in continuing to copy Mark, once Salome asked for John’s head, Matthew again inadvertently copies Mark, saying Antipas is upset, and doesn’t want to do it.(vs. 9) Why? It makes no sense for Antipas to be upset under Matthew’s version—Antipas should have been saying, “Yipee—I always wanted to kill him, now I can.”
    .
    Matthew through fatigue, left the part about Antipas being unhappy, which makes good sense under Mark, but no sense under Matthew.
    .
    I am unsure how we could ever quantify that Mark has “better source information” than Josephus. Especially considering Mark did not even have the right title for Antipas….

    Reply
    • Jason says:

      This is the first i’ve seen where Matthew is said to have copied Mark. Curious. I see your points on the title of king vs tetrarch.
      But looking into your point about Matthew saying Herod wants to kill John, but is then upset….can’t that be explained by both Mark and Matthew saying Herod feared and protected John because he was a prophet and holy man. Couldn’t he be upset not because of the death, but of what might happen as a repercussion?

      Reply
  2. Jason says:

    I also think the Cambridge commentary gives a good reason why Herod is referred to as both tetrarch and king. Luke 19:10 appears to describe Herod changing his title.
    http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/14-1.htm
    And from the commentary
    “the tetrarch] Literally, the ruler of a fourth part or district into which a province was divided; afterwards the name was extended to denote generally a petty king, the ruler of a provincial district. Deiotarus, whose cause Cicero supported, was tetrarch of Galatia. He is called king by Appian, just as Herod Antipas is called king, Matthew 14:9, and Mark 6:14.”

    Reply
  3. DagoodS says:

    Jason.
    .
    As to the copying between Mark, Matthew and Luke, just google “Synoptic Problem” and (if you are like me) lose about 2 months of your life running down various theories as to who copied whom. I ended up most persuaded by Dr. Goodacre’s position that Matthew copied Mark; Luke copied Matthew and Mark. Again, though, there other theories, and I can certainly understand why “Q” is the prominent theory.
    .
    You are correct, we can postulate numerous explanations as to why Herod Antipas was aggrieved. The most likely and most persuasive is that Matthew is exhibiting fatigue. (If you study the Synoptic Problem, you will find other instances of fatigue in Matthew and Luke, coupled with the high likelihood of Matthew copying Mark.)
    .
    As to the “king” vs. “tetrarch,” it is not as simple as Deiotarus (who may have been referred to as “king” and “tetrarch” for various reasons) A very brief history—Romans were very proud to not have King (thus the title “Caesar”) and looked down upon the provincials with their “kings.” When Caesar would bestow the title “king,” it was half-mocking, since this was not something a real Roman would want.
    .
    The Hebrews were proud of King Herod the Great—who had built up Palestine and consolidated the land. When Herod died (4 BCE), the land was split between Judea to Archelaus, Galilee and Peraea to Antipas and a Northern section to Philip. [A small, timely sidenote—the Hebrews of Judea hated Archelaus and asked he be removed and Judea cease being a tributary state, and go under direct rule of Rome. Tiberius agreed in 6 CE, thus requiring a census in Judea for taxation purposes [since Judea was no longer a tributary tax system], said Census being the one in Luke 2 that we all talk about this time of year.)
    .
    Agrippa (known confusingly as “Herod” in Acts of the Apostles) was the grandson on King Herod the Great, and nephew of Antipas. Agrippa was well-liked by both Rome and the Hebrews, and bestowed the title of “King.” Antipas made a move against Agrippa, but Agrippa had better contacts, so in 39 CE, Caligula banished Antipas and gave Galilee and Peraea to Agrippa. In the transfer of power to Caesar Claudius, again Agrippa chose the right side, and Claudius gave Agrippa Judea as well, once again consolidating the Hebrew Kingdom. Agrippa was titled King.
    .
    No historian or Hebrew living in the first part of the First century would confuse Antipas as being “king” as compared to “tetrarch.” There is way too much meaning and import in the events surrounding the kingship of the Herodian line, and the antipathy between Antipas and Agrippa.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *