Josephus, Tacitus, and Jesus

Josephus: The Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.3.3)

Josephus (37/8-100+ CE)
Antiquities of the Jews written in 93-94 CE.


In some apologetics books, it is common to see a version of the Testimonium Flavianum according to William Whiston's English translation. Not to digress, but Whiston was a very brilliant man, the successor to Isaac Newton at Cambridge and popularizer of Newton's theories. Interestingly, like Locke and Newton, Whiston was an Arian (a popular thing to be in the late seventeenth century). Whiston even left the Church of England and became a Baptist so he wouldn't have to hear the Athanasian Creed. Whiston's dissertations are interesting, at the end of his Josephus volume, especially the one where he tries to prove that Joseph ben Matthias (Josephus) became an Ebionite Christian Jew, and served as the 14th bishop of Jerusalem in the succession of James the Righteous. But there really is no historical substance there.

Anyway, since Thackeray (the great Josephus scholar - 1929), it has become the "majority view" in biblical scholarship that the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM is either (1) a total interpolation (a view which has now practically disappeared), or (2) a partial interpolation (a view which has now become the dominant position). Based on these simple facts, I am always quite surprised when I open up low level Christian apologetics books which cite the entire Whiston reference as if it still held the sway of scholars.

Here we will demonstrate the authenticity of the "reconstructed" TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM. Note the entire text below, with the interpolations in bold letters.

"Now about this time there was a wise man named Jesus -- if indeed one ought to speak of him as a man, for he was a doer of astonishing deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of the Christians, named after him, has not died out."

This is the view of most higher critical scholars. It is the minority view nowadays to regard the entire TESTIMONIUM as an interpolation, based on the "criterion of embarassment" (cf. Josephus's longer and more noble mention of John the Baptist, which is discussed below). Additionally, there is sufficient evidence that this writing did not come from the pen of a Christian:

FIRST, there are indications in this writing that it is an extra-Christian text. Where it says, "And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin." This sentence here indicates that the writer was unfamiliar with the Gospels. Nowhere in the Gospels is there any indication of Jesus gathering to himself people of Greek origin. A Canaanite woman, a Samaritan woman, and a few Gentiles who come to him. But Jesus's command to his disciples in Matt 10 is "Go not to the Gentiles . . . rather go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Although the overarching Matthean theme "is" the great commission to the Gentiles in all the earth - this was a post-resurrection narrative theme.) Thus, this indicates that "the writer" of the TESTIMONIUM was unfamiliar with the Gospels - a later Christian interpolater would have been familiar with the Gospels - yet, the "writer" is familiar with the idea that Christians are both Jews and Gentiles, something that a Jew like Josephus could surmise, and probably make an analagous inference that the immediate followers of Jesus were both Jew and Gentile, as the later Christians were in 93-94 CE. A later Christian could not have written this and blatantly contradicted the canonical Gospels. The question is "Why didn't a Christian interpolater eliminate these words or doctor them to fit the Gospel picture"? Let's be consistent in our criticism!

SECOND, in Antiquities 18:5.2, there is a fairly lengthy section on John the Baptist, of whom Josephus has many lofty things to say. He even says that the Jews regarded Herod Antipas's failed military effort against Aretas (king of Petra) as a judgment from God upon Antipas because he had killed JBap. The "criterion of embarassment" leads us to regard the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM as authentic (with great probability). Why would a Christian interpolater allow JBap to receive such a lengthy tribute from Josephus, while JNaz only received a few words? Like the example of JNaz's humble submission to the baptist in the Gospels, scholars regard such "embarassments" as authentic.

Another important thing about the JBap reference in Antiquities 18.5.2 is that there is "no" connection whatsoever between JBap and JNaz. The two are separated by three chapters and have "nothing to do with one another" in the mind of the writer. It is inconceivable that a Christian could have written this.

THIRD, if a patristic or medieval scribe was the "interpolator" of the entire TESTIMONIUM, why isn't there more of an anti-Semitic "bite" to this passage. The explanation of "Pilate" and the "leading men among us" is very bland. The Gospels, though differing somewhat in the Passion Narratives, all essentially agree that the Sanhedrin condemned JNaz for "religious" purposes, and Pilate condemned JNaz for "political" purposes." A patristic or medieval scribe with anti-Jewish sentiment (which was common) would have probably conflated the the passage to include some sort of anti-Jewish polemic. There is no anti-Jewish polemic in the TESTIMONIUM.

FINALLY, the phrase "And up until this day, the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out." First of all, the word "tribe" (Gr. phylon) is used by Josephus in many instances, yet is "not" particularly utilized by Christians in describing themselves. Secondly, if this was penned by a Christian, there is no mention of the fact that the Christians have somehow persisted, even through the persecution of Nero. There is no "triumph" of Christianity in the tone of this passage.

Stripped of the obvious Christian interpolations, there is still a nucleus to the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM which is regarded as authentic by the majority of scholars. And thus, it tells us some important things about JNaz. Accordingly, Jesus was supposedly a wise teacher who also wrought some wonders (the latter claim was nothing shocking to Josephus because he himself wrote of Vespasian's miracles). Secondly, the text also tells us that Jesus got into some trouble with the religious and political authorities to the point where he was executed. A crucified rebel or leader was nothing out of the ordinary in those days, but Josephus seems a bit surprised that the "tribe of Christians," for some reason, "has not died out." Now "that" was extraordinary.

Thus, we have extra-biblical support for the historical Jesus. The fact that the TESTIMONIUM wasn't used by ante-Nicene Christian apologists does not testify to it's absence from the record, it just affirms the rather neutral tone of the passage, and that it was therefore theologically useless, especially in the context of rising christological problems, etc.

Tacitus (Annals 15.44)

Another important extra-biblical reference regarding the historicity of Jesus comes to us by way of the Roman statesman and historian, Cornelius Tacitus. The most unfortunate thing about "The Annals of Tacitus," which record the history of Rome between 14-68 AD, is that one of the gaps in the narrative occurs between the 29-32 AD. This doesn't mean that Tacitus recorded anything specific about JNaz or Pontius Pilate, but it would have been interesting since Tacitus showed great interest in the Tiberian period. At any rate, there are other interesting things about this quote besides the reference to a group called "Christians" whose name comes from one "Christ" -- nominus eius Christus. Before I begin to elaborate, though, let me write the entire quote from Annals 15.44 below, and remember that Tacitus is writing towards the end of his life (57/8-ca. 118), and his focus at this point in the Annals was to record the Neronian Persecution after the great fire of Rome.

"Therefore, to squelch the rumor [about the fire], Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called 'Christians,' [a group] hated for their abominabe crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suprpressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful pactices from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated."

Now, Tacitus, writing this towards the end of his life, probably when he was proconsul of western Asia Minor ca. 112-13 AD, was writing primarily about Rome and Nero's Fire. So, this passage really has historical importance for early Christianity in Rome, and how opposition to the Imperial Cult was considered "evil," "deadly superstition," "horrendous," and "shameful." This is of tremendous importance when we consider how early Romans perceived Christians, even to the point where Nero could use them as scapegoats and the people would support his morbid persecution. As much as we have corruption in our political system here in America, we should consider ourselves lucky that we didn't live under the dominion of the great-great grandson of Augustus, the last of the Julio-Claudian line, the pupil of Seneca, and the son of Agrippina (whom he had clubbed to death) -- NERO.

Anyway, Tacitus had good cause to know "something" about Christians since he governed over the Ephesian region, as did his friend Pliny the Younger who governed over Bythinia -- both indicated that they had some "remote" knowledge of the "Christian problem," and the latter some immediate knowledge of the problem. But it is very important to note that both Tacitus and Pliny, as governors in the early second century, only had a "remote" knowledge of Christianity. The visibility of "Christian Judaism" (a Roman perception) really started to become evident when "Christian Judaism" evolved into a Gentile-inclusive "cult" called "Christians."

Now, allow me state some interesting things about the TACITUS reference.

1) The entire text is very negative, dismissive, and condescending towards the Christians. It simply could "not" have come from a Christian pen. Notice how Tacitus says, regarding the scapegoats, "those whom the 'common people' called Christians." This is an elitist, and perhaps aristocratic, remark because Tacitus is implying that he doesn't acknowledge them any more than he acknowledges any cult, apart from the Imperial Cult and the worship of the gods. That he doesn't acknowledge them is indicated when he says "the 'common people' [call them] Christians, [of course, I don't call them anything -- they are just another superstitious cult which I don't even recognize]. It's important to understand that this is an "elitist" perception here because "the writer" is sociologically removed from the Christians. The "Christians" do not exist in "his" world. Moreover, he speaks negatively about this superstition. He has nothing to do with it - he wants nothing to do with it.

2) But what is interesting is that (a) He assumes that "Christ" is a proper name because he makes an etymological connection with the term "Christians" - compare how Josephus simply uses the name "Jesus." (b) He has knowledge that JNaz was executed during the Tiberian reign (14-37 AD) by the procurator Pontius Pilate 26-36 AD. Now, how does he have this knowledge? Where did he get this knowledge? It isn't because he has intimate knowledge of the Christian teaching - as we said, he is sociologically removed from what he deems a cult. Therefore, this knowledge must have come to him through Roman sources, whether it was his from his friend Pliny, whether it was from his detailed study of the Tiberian reign and the problems in Judea, or whatever. I'm just saying that it's interesting how Tacitus "knows" about Jesus's execution by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. What is his source? Some have suggested Josephus, but most scholars dismiss that idea.

3) Some skeptics can't resist in saying that Tacitus would have never used the word "procurator" as a title for Pontius Pilate because of the Caesarea Maritima insciption discovered in 1961. And it's true that the term "prefect" was more appropriate for a man of equestrian (not senatorial) rank, like Pontius Pilate. However, critical scholars have pointed out that the terms were used interchangably, especially in marginal regions like Judea.

4) Another thing is when Tacitus says that, after the execution of Jesus, "[his movement was] suppressed for the moment . . . broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome. This is a loaded statement. Essentially, the phrase indicates that (a) this "Christ" character had some kind of noxious movement in Judea "prior" to his execution (presumably the execution is what temporarily suppressed the movement), but (2) the movement "somehow" broke out "again," and (3) the movement was now polluting Rome. Interestingly, this seems to be quite congruent with the general story of the Gospels and Acts. There seems to be a consistent general parallel between the two - the extra-biblical reference parallels the biblical story in general terms.

Without having to go further in quoting extra-biblical sources, the Josephus and Tacitus references are sufficient to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus (at least during the period of Pilate - 26-36 AD).

So, what are the scholarly conclusions simply from the TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM and TACTITUS references?

"Now about this time there was a wise man named Jesus -- if indeed one ought to speak of him as a man, for he was a doer of astonishing deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of the Christians, named after him, has not died out." (Josephus -- ca. 93-94)

"Therefore, to squelch the rumor [about the fire], Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called 'Christians,' [a group] hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful pactices from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated." (Tacitus -- ca. 112)

Thus we have the core facts of the Essential Jesus just from two extra-biblical sources:

The Essential Jesus

1) A wise man and teacher with a devout following
2) It was said that he had performed astonishing deeds
3) The religious leaders accused him of something
4) Pilate condemned him to the cross and executed
5) His following seemed to disappear for a short time
6) But his following was somehow revived again
7) His followers flourished in Judea, where he was executed
8) His followers spread the movement even to Rome
9) His followers called him Christ (Gr. "annointed")


The Crucifxion of Jesus - An Historical, Procedural, and Pathological Approach

by William J. Tsamis, M.A.

1. Crucifixion in Antiquity

Perhaps the most horrendous form of execution ever known to man, crucifixion was practiced from very ancient times, although in several different forms. In one form or the other, whether "impalement" or "crucifixion proper," it was utilized by the Egyptians, the Hindus, the Assyrians, the Scythians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the SeljukTurks, the Saracens, and even the Japanese.1 It is remarkable how widespread this practice was in the ancient world. According to Herodotus (ca. 485-25 BC), the Greeks probably adopted "crucifixion proper" from the Persians, and in the post-Alexander era (i.e. after 325 BC), it became normative in the Mediterranean world. Accounts of Muslim crusaders crucifying their captives, and non-Christian peoples crucifying missionaries (e.g. the Japanese) have to do with the "mockery" that captive crusaders or missionaries had to incur. For the most part, at least in the Greco-Roman world, "crucifixion proper" was perfected by the Romans as a method of prolonged torture, with profound psychological influence upon the masses. It was used primarily upon peoples of the lower classes, especially criminals and rebels in the provinces, yet sometimes it was also used upon high Roman officials who were accused of "treason."

At any rate, crucifixion had become so perfected as a method of torture and execution that it is was regarded as an "utterly vile death" (Origen), indeed "hideous" and "barbaric." Even the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 BC) deplored it as "a most cruel and disgusting punishment." And further, he would remark, "To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder; but to crucify him is what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed . . . "2

The brutality of crucifixion is well attested in ancient literature. For instance, after Alexander the Great conquered Tyre in 332 BC, he ordered the crucifixion of two-thousand Tyrians, a grave consequence for their seven month resistance. However, Alexander's actions would pale in comparison to the wrath of the Roman general Titus, who, during the seige of Jerusalem in AD 70, stripped the entire Judean hillside of nearly every tree so that the wood could be used for the making of crosses.3 And four years prior, during the governorship of Florus, at the outset of the Jewish War against the Romans, the practice was even imposed upon innocent men and women, while children and infants were subjected to wholesale slaughter.4 So outrageous was the aggressive policy of Florus on the Jerusalemites, that Josephus would comment that Bernice, sister of Herod Agrippa II (fl. AD 40-70), before whom the Apostle Paul testified (Acts 25:14-17), was horrified at the site and immediately sent messengers to Florus, begging him for clemency,5 but the pleas of the Herodian princess fell on deaf ears. Roman military brutality intensified, and crucifixion became prevalent because of its punishing and psychological efficacy. The Roman intolerance of Jerusalem was now final; thus, victims were even crucified on the walls of Jerusalem, and also on various shaped crosses in every position imaginable.

Although the Roman practice of crucifixion was intended to be a method of torturous execution for criminals and political revolutionaries, there was also a profound psychological effect which was to serve as a deterrent. Thus, as the roads of Syria/Palestine were donned with the bodies of dying revolutionaries as they hung on their respective crosses, it is fair to say that no one in that territory was immune from the gruesome vision and stench of a crucified victim. Martin Hengel states it perfectly when he says:

"The chief reason for crucifixion was its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent; it was, of course, carried out publicly . . . . It was usually associated with other forms of torture, including at least flogging . . . . By the public display of a naked victim at at a prominent place -- at a crossroads, in the theatre, on high ground, at the place of his crime -- crucifixion also represented his uttermost humiliation, which had a numinous dimension to it."6

Interestingly, one feature of crucifixion that is often overlooked is that the victim, in many cases, provided a feast for the birds of prey, ultimately until the guards would take down the body and throw it to the carrion dogs in the wilderness so that they might consume the remains. This is one of the reasons archaeologists cite for the dearth of crucified skeletons. So, crucifixion was not simply a "just" execution carried out as a consequence of criminal offense; crucifixion was a method of barbaric and heinous torture which ultimately resulted in brutal death. Many Greco-Roman writers would comment on the procedure by using phrases like "grim pickings for the dogs" and "hung alive for the wild beasts and birds of prey."7 So, whenever we posit the idea of "crucifxion" in our minds, we must graphically envision the execution sites with their numerous crosses, the Roman guards standing watch to ensure that families or sympathizers would not try to save their crucified love ones from the endless torture; and we must remember that crucifixion sites were darkened by a host of vultures circling over the site, as well as the carrion dogs waiting patiently at a safe distance for their sustainers to provide them their ration.

Moreover, we must appreciate "what it meant for a man in antiquity to be refused burial, and the dishonours which went with it."8 Although some cultures practiced ritualistic cremation, most cultures in the Ancient Near East practiced burial rituals and funerary rites, which included sacred readings, mourning, preparation of the body, procession, and finally interment. In the Roman era, especially, the subjected peoples perceived crucifxion as an unfair abomination because it was a form of execution used only on the conquered subjects -- Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion. Thus, crucfixion was regarded as an imperial form of oppression -- indeed, a disregard by the suzerain for the peoples of the provinces. Anyway, throughout the Roman period crucifixion was a terror which was reserved for criminals of the worst sort; and after the Jewish War (AD 70) and the rise of Christianity during the persecutions, crucifixion was one of many methods of toruturous exections imposed on Christians. It would not be until the reign of Constantine (306-337) that this horrid method of execution would be abolished. Most likely, it was Constantine's reverence for the cross which moved him to abolish crucifixion from the earth.

2. The Procedure of Roman Crucifixion

After a criminal had been sentenced to the cross, he would be stripped of his clothes and tied to a post in the tribunal. Then, a most cruel and severe form of scourging would begin. The whip, called a "flagrum," was an instrument with many lashes, to which pieces of sharp bone and metal were attached. One expert in pathology describes the torture as such:

"Over an over again the metal tips dug deep into the flesh, ripping small vessels, nerves, muscles, and skin. The victim writhed, rolled, wrenched and his whole body became distorted with pain, causing him to fall to the ground, only to be jerked up again. Seizurelike activities occurred, followed by tremors, vomiting, and cold sweats." 9

Of this gruesome torture, the early Church historian Eusebius wrote: "The veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure." According to the Law of Moses, as stipulated in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites limited the number of lashes to forty (Deuteronomy 25:3). (It is important to note that the Israelites never used any whip-like instrument which resembled the Roman "flagrum.) But since Jesus was subjected to the Roman system of justice, the limitation of forty lashes did not apply. In connection with this, it is interesting to note that many researchers who have examined the "Shroud of Turin"10 have detected over one hundred scourge wounds on the burial cloth. This excessive pre-crucifixion torture seems to be consistent with the Gospel accounts which seem to imply that, Pontius Pilate, in hoping to spare Jesus the cross, had Him severely scourged in order that the wrath of the Jewish mob might be quenched by such an awful spectacle of a "Man." However, Pilate's attempt to incite the pity and sympathy of the crowd were all to no avail. The rabid mob cried out with even more venemous contempt and fury: "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!" (John 19:15).

In considering the pre-crucifixion suffering of Jesus, which was, no doubt, more intense that the typical victim, something must be said about the "crown of thorns" that was forced upon the head of Jesus. Many experts agree that the "crown" was made from either the "zizphus spina" or the "paliuris spina," both members of the buckthorn family with thin, one-inch thorns. 11 Medical experts have commented about the nerves with regard to the area of the scalp. Essentially, any laceration of the small blood vessels would result in severe pain and significant bleeding.12 Although the physical pain caused by the "crown of thorns" must have certainly been excruciating, the sorrow, grief, and mockery must have caused Jesus even more pain.

After the fateful sentence was pronounced, "Ibis ad crucem," ("You shall go to the cross"), the victim was forced to carry his cross, or usually just the crossbeam (which could weigh a hundred pounds), to the site of execution, which in Jesus' case would have been just outside the walls of Jerusalem, probably along one of the main roads leading into the city. The purpose for exposing crucified victims to passers-by, as we saw in Hengel's remarks, was to fortify the impression of Roman military power in the minds of incoming Jewish pilgrims. And above the infrastructure of the numerous crosses, vultures would be circling, waiting to pick away at the dying carcasses hanging on the Roman crosses. Outside of Jerusalem, in the nearby wilderness, wild carrion dogs would be waiting in hope that the Roman executioners would dispose of the bodies in the wilderness; thus, providing the carnivorous canines with a ready meal.

Anyway, after the words "Ibis ad crucem" were uttered by the prefect (Roman military governor), the victim would take up his cross (or crossbeam), a herald would sometimes walk ahead of the victim announcing the crime while holding up the placard (i.e. the wooden plate placed above the victim's head on the cross) with the criminal charges written upon it. At other times, the placard would be hung around the victim's neck as he staggered through the streets, all the while being goaded along by the spears of the attending soldiers. Indeed, it was this placard, placed above Jesus' head on the cross, with His crime written upon it: "King of the Jews."

At the site of execution, the victim would be nailed through the wrists (7 inch spikes) to the crossbeam, and then, drawn up by ropes, the crossbeam would be fastened to the vertical beam. Then, with allowing some flexibility at the knees, the executioner would hammer the third spike through the victim's feet, or sometimes a spike would be hammered through each heel. (There was no uniformity or precise methodology with regard to crucifxion.) Interestingly, some scholars believe that the skeleton of a crucified victim named Yohanan, unearthed in 1967, shows that one long spike was driven through the "heel" bones of his two feet which were crossed over. If this is the case, then this particular detail becomes alive with symbolism in the case of Jesus, of whom it was prophesied in the protoevangelium: "You (Christ) shall crush his (Satan's) head; though he (Satan) will bruise your (Christ's) heel" (Genesis 3:15).

3. The Cause of Death - Pathology

In most crucifixions, the victim was "tied" to the cross, instead of being nailed, and he was allowed to hang there for days. Historical records tell us of instances where some victims survived on the cross for as many as nine days. In these cases, the bodies were left to rot on the cross, while the carrion birds feasted on the dead carcasses. During the imperial persecutions of Christians (ca. 64-312), stories were told of women martyrs who were crucified upside-down, naked, and allowed to hang there until their deaths. Eusebius would comment that this was "the most shameful, brutal, and inhuman of all spectacles to everyone watching."

In the case of Jesus, who was "nailed" to the cross, after incurring the previously described pre-crucifixion torture (i.e. the severe scourging), the death process, though swifter than the use of ropes, was excuciatingly more painful. One author describes it as such:

"The lacerating veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries, especially at the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst."13 Accompanying the overwhelming pain was an extreme complication in the normal respiratory function. One expert pathologist, in researching the medical cause of Jesus' death, temporarily suspended himself upon a model cross, and subsequently stated: "The deltoid (shoulder) and pectoral (chest) muscles promptly assume a state of spasm, and the victim so suspended is physically unable to make use of this thoracic (upper body) muscles of respiration."14 In order for the victim to breathe, he had to push himself up by his feet, which were nailed to the vertical beam, thus taking advantage of the flexibility allotted to him by the executioner. However, the pressure on his feet became unbearable, and he would once again collapse into the hanging position, thus putting an intolerable tearing pressure on the affixed hands (wrists). Also, the intense pain caused by the scourging would become aggravated during this "up and down" motion, due to the frictional contact between the victim's back and vertical beam.

After the victim had endured for several hours on the cross (from the Gospel records we can deduce that Jesus hung on the cross for at least six hours), the Roman soldiers, in order to hasten the death process, would smash the lower leg bones; an action called "crucifragium." Crucifragium made it impossible for the victim to move "up and down," thereby affixing the victim in the collapsed position and inducing death through repiratory malfunction. Interestingly, the skeleton of Yohanan reveals that the legs were shattered by one powerful blow.

Of course the Gospels tell us that crucifragium was not necessary in Jesus' case because He was already dead. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy that not one of His bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20). However, the Scriptures also tell us that one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear (not an unusual practice) to certify in fact that He was truly dead. One expert points out: "If Jesus had been alive after the spear wound, the soldiers as well as others at the site would have heard a loud sucking sound caused by breath being inhaled past the chest wound."15

Modern medical pathology has concluded, therefore, after a careful and intense examination of the facts, that the cause of Jesus' death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest due to cardiogenic, traumatic, and hypovolemic shock due to crucifixion."16 Indeed, these conclusions were affirmed in an intense study by the prestigious "Journal of the American Medical Association" (reference link below). Perhaps the best depiction of Jesus' suffering and death on the cross was best described by the Shroud expert, Frederick Zugibe:

"He was almost totally exhausted and in severe pain. Sweat poured over his entire body, drenching him, and his face assumed a yellowish-ashen color . . . The burning, exquisite pains from the nails, the lacerating lighting bolts across the face from the irritation by the crown of thorns, the burning wounds from the scourging, the severe pull on the shoulders, the intense cramps in the knees, and the severe thirst together composed a symphony of unrelenting pain.  Then he lifed his head up to heaven and cried out in a loud voice, 'It is consummated.'  Jesus was dead."17

Go directly to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article


1. Ian Wilson, The Blood and the Shroud. New York: Free Press, 1998, p. 207.
*In the case of the Seljuk Turks (Muslims) and Japanese, the purpose for crucifixion was one of mockery - i.e. a mockery of the death of Christ. During the Crusades, the Turks would crucify some of the crusaders whom they succeeded in capturing. The ridicule and mockery incurred by these crusaders was simply riotous joy to the Muslim enemy. In the case of the Japanese, there is strong witness that a great number of Christian missionaries were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597.

2. John Stott, The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove:InterVarsity, 1986, p. 24. (Quoting Cicero in his Against Verres II. v64, para. 165. (Interestingly, the Apostle Paul was not crucified (but rather, "beheaded," according to tradition) because he was in fact a Roman citizen, and Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion) -- cf. Cicero., Verr. Act., I, 5; II, 3, 5; III, 2, 24, 26; IV, 10 sqq.; V, 28, 52, 61, 66).

3. Josephus, War 2. 306-08

4. Josephus, War 5.447-51

5. Ibid.

6. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message
of the Cross.
Philadephia: Fortress, 1977.

7. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.
San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994. (Here, Crossan is quoting from Hengel).

8. Hengel, Crucifixion.

9. Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas, The Shroud and the Controversy. Nashville: Nelson, 1990, p. 105. *A quote from Frederick Zugibe's, The Cross and the Shroud, NY: Angelus, 1982.

10. *Watch for my coming article on "The Shroud of Turin."

11. Stevenson/Habermas, p. 105.

12. Ibid., p. 105.

13. Ibid.

14. Robert Bucklin, Legal and Medical Aspects, 24.
*Quoted in Stevenson/Habermas, p. 109.

15. Stevenson/Habermas, quoting Frederick Zugibe, p. 113.

16. Ibid., quoting the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

17. Frederick Zugibe, The Cross and the Shroud. NY: Angelus, 1982

N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas season, there are so many things to think about and contemplate. And although Pascha is still a ways off, I feel compelled to share with you two of N. T. Wright's article/lectures on "The Resurrection." Indeed, I discovered Wright years ago, and I have ploughed through all of his works to my great benefit. It is refreshing to see that conservative scholars like Wright - at least with regard to "Jesus Studies" - are setting new frontiers in historical studies, frontiers that only confirm the Gospel record.

For this reason I am sharing with you two key article/lectures from Wright's personal website. (I have linked his personal website below in the right-hand column under the category "Scholars' Personal Websites"). Anyway, read this wonderful, insightful, and original article on "The Resurrection of Jesus" and please peruse his website. Your spirit will only become the richer for it. A final note: In addition to the articles below (and his website), clear your desk and read his monumental tome "The Resurrection of the Son of God" (2004). This is the definitive work on the resurrection to this date.

  • Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins

  • Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus
  • The Pelagian Controversy : Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

    The Pelagian Controversy
    by William J Tsamis

    "I once more repeat my position: I say that it is possible for a man to be without sin. What do you say? That it is impossible for a man to be without sin? I am not saying that there is a man without sin . . . Our contention is simply about what is possible, not about what is, and what is not." -- Pelagius

    As quoted by Augustine in his A Treatise on Nature and Grace, Against Pelagius Book I, Chapter 8 - (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1, Vol. 5).

    Introduction and Historical Context

    Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been great intellectual wars waged in the name of, and for the sake of, truth. With a spirit of unrelenting zeal and intensity, councils have convened, creeds have been formulated, and in the wake of such ecclesiastical discipline, numerous anathemas have been hurled and not a few heretics have been denounced. In a pattern of dualistic theological conflict, we remember Athanasius and Arius, Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius, Patriarch Photius and Pope Nicholas, Luther and Leo X, Calvin and Arminius, and a host of other saints and heretics whose interpersonal theological disputes and disagreements caused great disruptions within the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," against which not even the gates of hell could prevail. Not least among these, however, was the great disputation between Augustine and Pelagius, two contemporary thinkers who would clash at the dawn of the fifth century (ca. 411), the former being the bishop of Hippo in North Africa who once experientially fathomed the depths of utter sin and depravity, the latter being a monk from the isles of Britain who lived uprightly in increasing integrity and piety, apparently untainted by the sin and moral evil which prevailed in the world. Thus, with no orthodox anthropological doctrine yet defined by the end of the fourth century, the Eastern Church being consumed with christological and theological schisms and controversies, perhaps it seemed fit that divine providence might bring together two antithetical Western thinkers from distant lands, and thus forge a scriptural anthropology of grace which would glorify God in His soteriological work and thus exalt the cross of the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    The time of the Pelagian Controversy was a time of great change, especially with regard to geopolitical and hegemonic change. Indeed, the sands of Rome were shifting and the lines of provincial demarcation were being erased and redefined. Now although the fall of the western Roman Empire would not arrive until the year 476, when the Germanic tribal chieftain Odoacer would depose the emperor Romulus Augustulus, the pillars of Rome had been crumbling for nearly a century under the consistent and ferocious attacks of the barbarian hordes. After the Visigoths defeated the Emperor Valens and his Roman legions at Adrianople in 378, the legend of Roman invincibility died on the battlefield along with the emperor and his legions, and thus, a century of chaos was now ushered in.1 Vandals, Ostrogoths, Huns, Burgundians, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and others began to tear away at the flesh of the dying beast which was once Rome, seizing territories at will, and thus driving the once invincible armies of Rome into evacuation and retreat. The western provinces of Rome were swallowed up by the gluttonous barbarians, and the former provinces became the new strongholds of alien cultures.

    Now it was on the occasion of the sack of Rome in 410, led by Alaric the Goth, that Augustine was compelled to write his classic "City of God," which essentially defended Christianity from the accusations of pagan writers who alleged that the fall of Rome was the consequence of the abandonment of the pagan gods.2 A massive literary undertaking of fourteen years, Augustine effectively articulated a philosophy of history which centered on the sovereignty and providence of God in the affairs of men. Moreover, he not only defended the truth of Christianity, but he polemically attacked the immorality of Roman pagan religion, insisting that the gods of Rome along with their respective sacerdotal systems were worthless in conveying any ethic to their peoples; they were simply a reflection of the perversions of pagan Rome, upon which the God of gods was now visiting His divine retribution.3 Augustine gives evidence to this assertion by demonstrating that in spite of all the "destruction, slaughter, burning, plundering, and distress visited upon Rome . . . it was something entirely new that the fierce barbarians, by an unprecedented turn of events, showed such clemency for the vast basilicas which were designated as places of refuge [for Christian and pagan alike]."4 Augustine reminds his readers that it was not the sudden compassion and mercy of the barbaric savages that spared the lives of both Christians and pagans, but "It was God who struck awe into ruthless and bloodthirsty hearts, who curbed and wondrously tamed them."5

    Now because of the geopolitical instability of the times, especially around the perimeters of the empire, Pelagius, the British monk, migrated to Rome in about 380-384.6 There, he studied law, perfecting his polemical skills, and he fused his monastic legalistic piety with his clear intellect, striving all the while to effectuate some change in the corrupt morals of societal Rome. Also, during his time in Rome, Pelagius befriended one, Celestius, who would later become a champion of the Pelagian system. Indeed, it was from the latter that the controversy would take its rise, for as Philip Schaff notes, it was Pelagius who was "the moral author of the system," while Celestius would be regarded as "the intellectual author."7 At the time of Alaric's march against Rome in 410, however, both Pelagius and Celestius would take flight from Rome's impending doom, and set sail for the shores of sanctuary in North Africa. Whereas Pelagius would mark a brief stay in North Africa, leaving for Palestine in 413 in order to forward his anthropologcal views there, Celestius would stay behind in Carthage and seek orders for the presbytery. Ironically, it would be from the latter event that the Pelagian Controversy would then arise.

    Before we discuss the anthropological doctrines of Pelagianism, along with its Augustinian antithesis, let us briefly digress into a biographical sketch of the two thinkers so that we can arrive at some understanding at how these two prominent men, Pelagius and Augustine, not only differed in their anthropology, but in their psychological development and experience as well. For as Berkhof, citing the words of Wiggers, says,

    "Their characters were diametrically opposite. Pelagius was a quiet man, as free from mysticism as aspiring ambition; and in this respect, his mode of thought and action must have been wholly different from that of Augustine. Both therefore thought differently, according to their totally different physiognamy; and both, moreover, must have come into conflict just as soon as external occasion should be presented."(Augustinianism and Pelagianism, p. 47).8

    So with regard to this debate, i.e. the Pelagian Controversy, the developmental backgrounds of the two men are of immense importance. How each man arrived at his own respective system was not entirely due to scriptural exegesis and inference, but also due to the experiences and essential psychological profiles of the two men in their developmental years. Now with regard to Pelagius (ca. 350-425), there is scant evidence about his early life, although we can presume that he came from a noble family since he was highly educated in language (speaking both Latin and Greek) as well as in the cultural arts. As we noted earlier, he was always known to be a man of great individual piety, morality, and self-discipline. Even Augustine, though he condemned the Pelagian doctrine as error, spoke well of Pelagius's exemplary character. So, from various writings, we can deduce that Pelagius was a moralist who lived an austere, puritan Christian life, a man who believed from his own experience that all men possessed an absolute "freedom of the will" and self-determination toward the holy life. As a man, then, Pelagius is to be commended for his loyalty to the moral teachings of the Saviour; as a theologian, however, as we shall see later, Pelagius is to be denounced as one who emphasized a form of legalism which denied a preeminent role to the grace of God.

    Now with regard to Augustine of Hippo (354-430), if we were to examine his developmental years, we would find a man of contrary psychological character to that of Pelagius. Whereas in the life of Pelagius we see stability and concrete affinity to the Christian religion, in the person of Augustine we see a young man "tossed about to and fro" on the waves of various worldviews and thought systems. Even in his youth an active mind, it was when Augustine read Cicero's Hortensius that he began his quest for wisdom, and in the words of the patristic scholar Johannes Quasten, "his long and tormented interior evolution began."9 And though he received a Christian education in his earlier years - his mother Monica being a pious Christian - Augustine had read the scriptures with little or no profit. So, appealing to his rationalistic tendencies, Augustine pursued other forms of thought until he finally rested in the religion of Manichaeism in its heterodox Christian form, which essentially articulated (1) a form of rationalism which excluded faith, (2) a purely spiritual form of Christianity which excluded the Old Testament, and (3) a radical metaphysical dualism which solved the problem of evil.10 For about a decade, then, Augustine would align himself with Manichaeism and maintain a strict anti-Christian bias. But after reading the writings of certain academics and philosophers such as the Platonists, Augustine recognized the irrational and mythical aspects of certain Manichaean metaphysical presuppositions, and he thus fell into the realm of skepticism.

    During his years of turmoil, Augustine plunged the depths of immorality and lived a life of full-blown hedonism. Immersed in promiscuity, he lived unmarried with a woman for about thirteen years who bore him a son named Adeodatus, to whom he remained a faithful father his whole life. In his famous work The Confessions, Augustine relates to us his level of depravity:

    For in that youth of mine I was on fire to take my fill of hell. Outrageously in all my shady loves I began to revert to a state of savagery: my beauty consumed away and I stank in [God's] sight; pleasing myself and being anxious to please in the eyes of men."11

    Nevertheless, despite his immersion in the hedonistic lifestyle, Augustine excelled in learning and became a professor of rhetoric at Milan in the year 385. Partly due to the volatility of the times, and partly due to his soaring intellect, Augustine experienced tremendous success and, for a time, he even considered pursuing a political career. In reflecting on those years, however, he said,

    "In the years that I taught the art of rhetoric, I was overcome by a desire for [monetary] gain. I took money for instructing my pupils on how to overcome
    other people by speech-making."

    Augustine, then, was a master of logic and rhetoric, a very successful and rising star, but he was deeply unhappy and discontented.

    Ironically, or providentially, a very learned and eloquent man also resided in Milan, a spiritual man whose character and intellect transcended even the greatest minds of the era - his name was Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Not only was Ambrose a highly skilled rhetorician, but he was a master of classical philosophical works as well, a true scholar of his age. Most importantly, however, Ambrose possessed the soul of a pastor who deeply cared for the Church, not only in an intellectual polemical sense, but in an ethical and moral sense as well. (Ambrose's denunciation of Theodosius after the massacre at Thessalonica is legend.) Thus, it would not be long before Augustine would hear of Ambrose, and subsequently desire to listen to his powerful homilies which were rich with theological and philosophical insights. Yet although Ambrose would have a profound effect on the "spiritual restlessness" of Augustine, it would be by a simple act of faith in the Saviour that Augustine would enter into the kingdom of God and be baptized into the Church. And after his baptism by the great Ambrose in 387, he decided to abandon his career as a professor of rhetoric, along with the renunciation of his formal lifestyle, and instead, return to Hippo in North Africa with his son and his mother in order to found a monastic community. In 385, however, Augustine would become bishop of Hippo, a post which he would retain his entire life, a post from which he would launch his timeless theological and polemical writings. In sum, then, this is the story of Augustine's radical metamorphosis from hedonistic paganism to the faith of Jesus Christ.

    The Pelagian Thesis

    In discussing the Pelagian Controversy, it is critical to point out that the Church, until that time, had not really dealt with the issue of anthropology in any depth. If we could ascribe any systematized doctrine to the Eastern Chuch, we could say that the Greek Fathers, especially those at Alexandria, were so concerned with the cosmological dualism and fatalism of earlier Gnostic systems, that the anthropology which was developed in the East stressed a "synergism" which attributed salvation to the work of the human will alongside the work of divine grace.13 Moreover, as we stated in our introduction, the Greek Fathers of this era (e.g., Athanasius, the Cappadocians, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, et al.), were consumed with christological and theological subordinationist issues, issues of course which would prove to be of immense importance to the historic Christian faith. It can also be said, at this point, that although the Eastern Church joined the Western Church in the condemnation of Pelagianism at the Council of Ephesus in 431 (along with the condemnation of Nestorius), the anathema in no way implied an acceptance of the Augustinian anthropology.14 Salvific theology in the Eastern Church had inferred from the words of Athanasius the doctrine "Theosis" (sometimes rendered deification or divinization), the words of Athanasius being "He became what we are, so that He might make us what He is." Certainly, the concept of Theosis is not to be confused with far eastern metaphysical monistic ideas such as the Vedantic idea of absortion into Brahman, but rather, the idea is inferred from incarnational theology and certain scriptures such as "You have become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4).

    Thus, in the Western theological tradition the idea is similar to that of "glorification." In the centuries following the Council of Ephesus the idea of Theosis became more systematized by such Eastern thinkers as Maximus Confessor (580-662) and the mystic, Symeon the New Theologian (ca. 11th cent.). Perhaps the differences between anthropological doctrine in the East as compared to that of the West are best summarized by the words of the eminent scholar Jaroslav Pelikan:

    "The divergences between the Eastern and Augustinian definitions of Christianity were expressed in connection with this doctrine of deification (Theosis). For although Symeon spoke at length about the fall of Adam and its disastrous consequences, he was explicit in asserting that the consequences of the fall for subsequent generations were tied to the repetition of Adam's sin; guilt was not transmitted through conception and birth to his descendants. The fall of Adam had as its result that man was 'sick, weak, and infirm,' but a man's sin was still his own."(emphasis mine)15

    So as we can see, the Eastern Church perceived anthropological and soteriological ideas in a much different way than the Western Church did. Much of the divergence, however, can be ascribed to the differing languages of the Eastern (Byzantine) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches, i.e. the languages of Greek and Latin respectively. As one scholar remarked with some wit, "They didn't understand each other because they simply didn't 'understand' each other." So, although the Byzantine and Roman churches were united at Ephesus in 431 in their condemnation of Pelagianism, we can see that there was an existing chasm with regard to their respective premises regarding anthropology and hamartiology. In lieu of this distinction, then, let us now return to our discussion of the Pelagian system.

    Now the major proponents of Pelagianism were, Pelagius, Celestius, and Julian, the latter being a bishop at Rome who would become a fierce opponent of Augustine and thus battle against the Augustinian anthropology to the very day of his death. From the perspective of intellectual appreciation, it must be admitted that these three pillars of Pelagianism were no mean scholars, but rather, they were quite learned and orthodox with respect to their christology and theology. So, at this point, then, let us ask the question, "What exactly was Pelagianism, and what were the major tenets upon which the doctrine rested?"

    If we look at the six major propositions forwarded by Celestius while he was at Carthage, we can truly see inside the Pelagian system and thus appreciate why Augustine necessarily put forth a polemical refutation. In sum, the six major propositions of Celestius were:

    1. "Adam was created mortal and would have died whether he had sinned or not sinned."

    2. "The sin of Adam injured only him, not the human race."

    3. "The law leads to the kingdom, just as the gospel does."

    4. "Even before the coming of Christ there were men without sin."

    5. "Newborn infants are in the same state in which Adam was before his transgression."

    6. "The whole human race does not die through the death and transgression
    of Adam, nor does it rise again through the resurrection of Christ."16

    Although the six propositions of Celestius are concise in form, certain inferences can be drawn with respect to some major heterodox theological ideas, and for this reason Pelagianism was first condemned at a synod in Carthage in 411, Celestius refusing to recant the errors ascribed to him, and then at the Synod of Diospolis in 415, the Council of Carthage in 418, and the final, universal anathema pronounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

    Now, first and foremost in the mind of Pelagianism was the idea of "the freedom of the will," namely, that man has an absolute power over his own will, and that in each instance where man has the opportunity to make a moral decision he has the power to choose between good and evil, between the holy and the unholy.17 In the view of the Western church, this Pelagian idea seemed to diminish, or altogether exclude the doctrine of grace and instead imply a self-determinative principle within man which would make possible the achievement of a sinless life without the grace of God. Thus, the concept of "posse non peccare" (i.e., the possibility of not sinning) was not limited to Adam before the fall, but was possible for all mankind since there was no generational transmission of Adamic guilt, i.e. original sin. In the Pelagian system, then, men are born into the world much in the same way that Adam was, i.e., innocent, a tabula rasa upon which the self-determinative and uninterrupted will of man would write his own moral and salvific story. Through the fall of Adam, then, there was no hereditary corruption of the entire human race, but rather, Adam simply provided a bad example in his autonomous disobedience to the will of God. Accordingly, it is not the Adamic corruption of the human race which is the fountain of sin, but rather, the increasingly entropic socio-psychological conditions which provide the negative impluses for the sins of mankind.

    Another dangerous implication of the Pelagian view was that it seemed to reinforce a doctrine of works which was blatantly contradictory to the doctrine of grace and the salvific plan of God. Essentially, Pelagianism asserted that, since there was no such thing as original sin, it was even possible for the heathen to attain salvation apart from the cross of Christ. Though this Pelagian view should not be confused with such contemporary soteriological ideas as inclusivism or universalism, it would not be inappropriate to identify the Pelagian view with any doctrine which ascribes works to salvation. For Pelagianism, then, the only beneficial aspect of the gospel was that it made "perfect obedience" far easier to attain.18

    The most devastating aspect of the Pelagian system, however, was that it seemed to controvert the explicit teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5. The natural rendering of the text, especially Rom 5:12-21, seems to convey the idea that Adam was the originator of sin, introducing it along with its consequence, "death," into the human race, and that Christ, the Second Adam, was the source of justification, introducing "life eternal" to all those who believe in Him. The Pelagians were fully cognizant of this difficultly in their system, and they attempted to construct an alternative hermeneutic which would support their doctrine. Pelagius, for instance, argued that the term "all" in Rom 5:12 was simply a general statement rather than a universal one, and that such pre-Christian saints as Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and even Mary were free from a life of sin.19 With regard to this aspect of the Pelagian view, Schaff makes some meaningful comments: "In this system Paul's exhibitions of Adam and Christ have no meaning. If the sin of Adam cannot be imputed , neither can the merit of Christ."20 In sum, then, the exposition of Rom 5 would deal a crushing blow to the doctrine of Pelagianism.

    The Augustinian Antithesis

    In the second decade of the fifth century, when Augustine understood the task of refuting the Pelagian anthropology, he had already engaged in two disputations of critical magnitude, i.e., the heresy of Manichaeism and the Donatist controversy; so Augustine was no stranger to apologetics and polemical writing. When the Pelagians entered into the theological forum in which Augustine was a proven champion, they had no idea of the level of genius with which they would have to contend. As in many instances, the contemporaries of a great man (whether he be a thinker or an artist) have only a limited appreciation of the true level of his brilliance - only historians can look back in retrospect and truly understand the implications of a man's genius. Certainly, Pelagius, Celestius, and Julian (the traid of Pelagian thought) had no idea that the man with whom they had to contend, would be regarded as one of the most important thinkers since the Apostle Paul, and moreover, that an entire millennium of philosophic thought would be declared as "The Augustinian Age." In sum, the Pelagian view, though set forth by no mean scholars, would be cut down by the sharp blade of Augustine's theological, philosophical, exegetical, and rhetorical edge.

    Now, when Pelagius forwarded his doctrine of posse non peccare, thus extending the possibility of attaining holiness and sinless perfection beyond the fall of man, Augustine perceived the pastoral implications of the idea, namely, that laypeople would become discouraged in their quest for Christian piety and thus despair, because for them "perfect obedience" was impossible.21 Augustine could truly identify with converts to Christianity because he had come from the world of hedonism and paganism himself. Experientially, he knew the power of sin and the depth of human depravity; and, in his personal exodus from the kosmos, he knew, again experientially, the power of divine grace, as he so openly expressed in his Confessions. As Schaff so eloquently states:

    "[In the Confessions], every Christian may bewail his own wanderings, despair of himself, throw himself unconditionally into the arms of God, and lay hold upon unmerited grace . . . [Augustine] teaches nothing which he has not felt. In him the philosopher and living Christian are everywhere fused."22

    It must be emphasized that it was not in the interest of Augustine to denigrate the concept of the Christian's pursuit of piety and thus provide a way for antinomianism, but rather, in the sprit of Paul, Augustine sought to emphasize the fact that the Christian can experience metamorphosis only by divine grace. For this reason, then, it is interesting to examine the various metaphors used by the Pelagians to those of Augustine, for in these metaphors we see the contradiction of the two systems. For instance, whereas Pelagius taught his followers to strive toward spiritual adulthood by positive moral action, Augustine stressed the helplessness of infants and, therefore, the need for divine grace.23 Furthermore, whereas the Pelagian system required the Christian to pursue an uphill determinative course with absolute resolution, the Augustinian antithesis discussed moral action within the context of divine grace, i.e., positive human works done in spontaneity without effort, all for the love of, and for the sake of, Christ.24

    Perhaps the greatest doctrine which is immediately identified with Augustinian anthropology is that of original sin. Of course the locus classicus for the doctrine of original sin is Rom 5:12-21,

    "For just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin; thus, death spread to all men (v. 12) . . . For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned (v. 19) . . ."

    Now as we stated in our introduction, there was no theological or hermeneutical consensus regarding this Pauline text in the ante-Nicene, Nicene, or post-Nicene churches. Apart from Irenaeus, the second century (Western) bishop of Lyons who exegeted much of his recapitulation theology from the text of Rom 5 (cf. Against Heresies), we know that the early Greek Fathers, though conscious of humanity's universal solidarity with Adam's fall, never espoused any doctrine of inherited guilt (i.e., "original sin"). Indeed, from the greater corpus of the writings of the Eastern Church we can infer this emphasis by the recurrent attitude toward the sinlessness of infants (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom).25 But with all due respect to these great thinkers of the east, no one in the early church had plunged the depths and dissected the locus classicus to the extent of Augustine. For Augustine, the critical issue here was not necessarily the "freedom of the will" (although he elaborated on it in depth), but rather, the role of divine grace in human salvation.26 Critical to the thought of Augustine was the recapitulation motif of Paul, i.e. sin and death through Adam, and justification and life through Jesus Christ. In the writings and teachings of the Pelagians, Augustine perceived a dangerous denigration of both divine grace and salvific theology. For him, unless there was a solidarity (or oneness) with the nature of Adam, there could be no solidarity (or oneness) with the person of Christ. Thus, for Augustine, sin was not merely a moral decision of the will, but rather, a condition of human nature itself; and this sinful nature (i.e., original sin) was transmitted to the entire human race through seminal generation (i.e., the theory of Traducianism which originated in the thought of Tertullian).

    Although the Augustinian anthropology is defined extensively, we can deduce, in sum, that the power of sin due to the Adamic fall is universal and pervasive. It is seated in the moral character of man, and it manifests itself naturally through his actions. Though man is utterly depraved, this is not a negative theological factor, but rather a postitve one because it exalts the idea of God's redeeming grace. As Schaff notes, "The greater the corruption, the mightier must be the remedial principle."27 Whereas in Pelagianism we discover a doctrine of human ascent (works), in the Augustinian antithesis we discover a doctrine of divine descent (grace). In his Confessions, Augustine beautifully describes how man is nothing without God. Nor can man accomplish anything divine without the Lord of heaven and earth:

    And how shall I pray to my God, my God and my Lord? When I pray to Him, I call Him into myself. And in me what place or room is there into which my God should come? God should come? How should God come into me, God who created heaven and earth . . . Oh that I might find my rest and peace in you! Oh, that you come into my heart and so inebriate it that I would forget my own evils and embrace my one and only good, which is you. Lord, have mercy on me!"28

    In Augustinian thought, the transforming power of Christ works within the heart of man, and first, cleanses the Christian through the forgiveness of sins, restoring the communion between man and God, and then begins to manifest itself outwardly through the life of the believer, reflecting the image and character of Christ. For Augustine, the ultimate manifestation of this image was one's love for his fellow man. But none of this could occur without the unmerited grace of God; this is sola gratia. And athough not necessarily identical to the Protestant exposition, it is still a powerful emphasis on the grace of God, something which, in an age of asceticism, was revolutionary in one sense, but in another, it was simply a return to Pauline theology.

    Semi-Pelagian Synthesis and Conclusion

    In this paper, I have used as my outline the motif of Pelagian thesis, Augustinian antithesis, and Semi-Pelagian synthesis. Although this is a Hegelian paradigm (i.e. the dialectical method), let me say that it is not entirely loyal to Hegel's idea of the triadic paradigm. Rather, it is representative of the commonly misunderstood idea (or caricature) of the Hegelian method, i.e. that thesis and antithesis lead to a higher unity which is synthesis. According to this understanding of the Hegelian triad, the common ideas of the thesis and antithesis are synthesized, while the uncommon elements are laid aside. However, a true philosophic understanding of Hegel's method will reveal that the contradictions of the thesis and antithesis must be incorporated into the synthesis as well. Hegel articulates this in detail in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Nevertheless, in analyzing the historical outcome of the Pelagian Controversy, it occured to me that the caricatured understanding of Hegel's system appropriated itself perfectly. For, in the post-Augustinian doctrine of Semi-Pelagianism, the contradictions of Pelagius and Augustine are not incorporated into a higher unity, but rather, the contradictions are laid aside and the common ideas are thus integrated. With this said, then, let us conclude with a concise epilogue to the Pelagian Controversy, namely, the adoption of Semi-Pelagianism, its refutation, and the subsequent formulation of a Semi-Augustinian position.

    Essentially, the problem for many thinkers who succeeded Augustine was the apparent contradiction of divine providence and free will. Augustine's emphasis on sovereign grace and predestination reminded many theologians of pagan fatalism and determinism,29 and for such eminent thinkers as the Eastern theologian John Cassian (365-433), a disciple of John Chrysostom, the predestinarianism of Augustine seemed to eclipse the whole idea of free will, the logical question being, "If God desired all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), then how could God predestine only some to eternal life?" Anyway, the principal defender of Augustine was Prosper of Aquitane (390-455), and it was primarily through his writings that the ideas of Augustine were preserved and diffused throughout the Middle Ages.30

    That John Cassian would become the champion of Semi-Pelagian thought is not surprising since his monastic background would be sympathetic to the Pelagian view. Indeed, not only did Cassian labor with Pelagius for a short time in Rome, but his seven year association with the monastic communities of Egypt provided a fertile breeding ground for the idea that the Christian life is an uphill determinative course with absolute resolution - in essence, a doctrine of works. It is true that Cassian rejected certain elements of the Pelagian view (cf. his thirteenth Colloquy), affirming the absolute universality of human sin and necessity of divine grace, but it is also true that Cassian was a man of the Eastern Church who adopted the ideas of the Greek Fathers (who admittedly were better theologians and christologians than anthropologians), ideas such as Theosis, etc. In his own presdisposition to ascetic practice, he implicitly rejected certain Augustinian ideas such as predestinarianism and irresistible grace,31 which he felt were in conflict with Holy Tradition. So, in essence, Cassian discarded certain aspects of both the Pelagian and Augustinian systems, yet at the same time, he retained certain tenets which were central to both. In essence, according to the synthesis of Cassian, man is not totally depraved by the Adamic fall, yet he is greatly weakened; he is in dire need of God's grace, yet he must, through his own free will, co-operate with the offer of God's salvation.32 So, yes, the nature of man is corrupted by the fall in original sin, yet there is a role for human volition as well, especially with regard to initiating the process of salvation by desiring to receive the grace of God. In sum, then, this is Semi-Pelagianism in its essential form. It must be said, however, that this form of Semi-Pelagianism, though it prevailed in Gaul and in certain monastic communities, was eventually condemned by the Synod of Orange in 529. At Orange, the champion of Augustinianism, Caesarius of Arles drew from Prosper of Aquitane's A Book of Sentences from The Works of St. Augustine and systematically refuted the Semi-Pelagian position in a series of canons.33 Nevertheless, the absoulte monergistic predestinarianism of Augustine was also rejected (although gently), and a Semi-Augustinian position was formulated, a position upon which the Roman Church would stand for centuries.

    In the end, then, Augustine prevailed, and his ideas were further developed by later thinkers such as Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas. And in the Reformation, both Martin Luther and John Calvin would build their entire theologies on the doctrines set forth by Augustine. So, in a sense, the comment by Alfred North Whitehead bears a great truth - i.e., that "the rest of Western theology would be but a footnote to the ideas of Augustine."

    Works Cited

    1. T. Walter Wallbank and Alastair M. Taylor, Civilisation: Past and Present, 4th ed.,(Chicago: Scott, Foresman, and Company, 1960), p. 210.

    2. St. Augustine, City of God, Trans. by Gerald G Walsh, S.J., et al. (New York: Image, 1958), Book I, Chapter 3.

    3. Ibid., Book I, Chapter 8.

    4. Ibid., Book I, Chapter 7.

    5. Ibid., Book I, Chapter 7.

    6. Johannes Quasten, Patrology: The Golden Age of Latin Patristic Literature from the Council of Nicea to the Council of Chalcedon, Trans. by Placid Solari, 4 of 4 vols., (Westminster. MD: Christian Classics, 1986), p. 465.

    7. Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, 3 of 8 vols., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprinted 1995, original publisher Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), p. 792.

    8. Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1937), pp. 131-32.

    9. St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Trans. Rex Warner, (New York: Meridian), Book III, Chapter 4.

    10. Quasten, p. 346.

    11. St. Augustine, The Confesssions, Book II, Chapter 1.

    12. Ibid., Book 1V, Chapter 2.

    13. Schaff, p. 786.

    14. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), 1 of 5 vols. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971),
    p. 318.

    15. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), 2 of 5 vols. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 260-61.

    16. Pelikan, 1:315-16.

    17. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2 of 3 vols., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1993), p. 153.

    18. Ibid., 154.

    19. Schaff, p. 807.

    20. Ibid., p. 808.

    21. Michael P. McHugh, "Augustine" in The Encyclopedia of Early Christianty, ed. Everett Ferguson, (London: Garland, 1990), p. 124.

    22. Schaff, p. 816.

    23. McHugh, p. 125.

    24. Ibid., p. 125.

    25. Ibid., p. 669.

    26. Schaff, p. 830.

    27. Ibid., p. 843.

    28. St. Augustine, Confessions, Book I, Chapters 2, 4.

    29. Pelikan, 1:321.

    30. McHugh, "Prosper of Aquitane," p. 760.

    31. Schaff, p. 861.

    32. Ibid., p. 861.

    33. Pelikan, 1:329.

    34. Alfred North Whitehead quoted in Pelikan, 1:330.

    The Apocalyptic Literary Genre: Vision and Symbol

    13 Violently agitated and trembling, I fell upon my face . . .

    17 I looked, and I saw an exalted throne.

    18 The appearance of which was like that of frost;
    While its circumference resembled the orb of the brilliant sun;
    And there was the voice of the cherubim.

    19 From underneath this mighty throne rivers of flaming fire issued.

    20-21 To look upon it was impossible. One great in glory sat upon it:

    22 Whose robe was brighter than the sun, and whiter than snow.

    23 No angel was capable of penetrating to view the face of Him, The Glorious and the Effulgent. For a fire was flaming around Him.

    24 A fire also of great extent continued to rise up before Him; Not one of those who surrounded Him was capable of approaching Him, I also was so far advanced, I also was so far advanced, with a veil on my face, and trembling. Then the Lord with his own mouth called me, saying, "Approach hither, Enoch, at my holy word."

    1 Enoch 15:13-24

    The pseudepigraphal book of 1 Enoch (c. 170-80 BC) perfectly represents that great body of literature called apocalyptic, which flourished from the third century BC to the second century AD. Some other works from this genre and period include such non-canonical texts as 2 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), The Rule of War (1QM), The Shepherd of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, as well as the canonical Apocalypse of John (Revelation). In addition, we would include certain prototypical canonical texts such as Joel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, which all date from the pre-Hellenistic age. It is true that many liberal scholars regard apocalyptic indications in the Hebrew Prophets as later interpolations,1 but in fact, this assertion is nothing more than philosophical naturalism masked by a method and approach rooted in higher (negative) criticism. The presumption of vaticinia ex eventu, for instance, which reflects the antisupernaturalism of David Hume and others, should not be the overriding compass which guides the objective scholar into historiographical pursuit. Nevertheless, it is precisely this presumption that has led to the fragmentaton of the Book of Isaiah and the late-dating of the Book of Daniel as well as sections of Zechariah. Although it would be impossible within the confines of this paper to defend the traditional views of authorship with respect to these prophetic books, I would like to emphasize the accepted opinion that although the apocalyptic literary genre flourished generally from the Hasmonean period to the sub-apostolic era, the rise of this literary corpus was "neither sudden or anomalous,"2 but rather, was firmly rooted in the characteristic style of the Hebrew Prophets. In this paper, then, I would like to discuss some of the features of the apocalyptic literary genre, and I would like to show how the Hebrew Prophets served as the prototypical model for this unique style of writing.

    Although there are many features which denote that a particular writing is apocalyptic, including such elements as eschatology, dualism, deliverance of the righteous, punishment of the wicked, angelic mediators, resurrection and the afterlife, and so on, we will limit our discussion to essentially two critical features, namely, visions and symbolism. Along with eschatology and dualism, I would say that these two features are the central components within the apocalyptic literary genre.

    First, however, let us discuss the meaning of the word apocalyptic because it is often limited to the confines of eschatology, i.e. "the study of last things." In point of fact, though, the term apocalyptic (apocalypsis) literally means "unveiling," and although it can encompass or imply eschatological matters, it is by no means confined to that definition. Thus, the term apocalyptic is much broader and is denoted by a number of unique features, as we mentioned above. With this said, then, let us examine the ideas of vision and symbol within the corpus of apocalyptic literature.


    It is interesting, when examining the text of 1 Enoch 15 at the beginning of this paper, we are immediately reminded of certain visions and theophanies which are recurrent in the Major and Minor Prophets - e.g. Isa 6, Ezek 1-3, Dan 7, Zech 1-6. In the instances of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, for example, we have apocalyptic theophanic visions which are prototypical not only of the Enochian text, but also of the christophany in Rev 1 and of the heavenly throne room vision in Rev 4. Thus, through the Book of Revelation, we can deduce that the visionary feature of apocalyptic literature in the early Church, along with many other features, can be considered a coninuance of the apocalyptic tradition which has its prototypical roots in the Prophets.3

    Now before we discuss some of the aspects of apocalyptic theophanic visions, let us first address the contemporary assertion that such visions were the result of ecstatic trance. Again, let me point out that such a hypothesis is borne, not out of historical objectivity, but rather out of the post-Enlightenment paradigm which has granted ascendancy to the schools of anthropology and psychology, although it should be noted that there is great polarity and fragmentaton within these fields with regard to a host of issues. Nevertheless, the anthropological assertion that the ancient prophets of Israel must have paralleled their pagan counterparts, who were ecstatics - e.g. the Dionysian frenzy of Hellenistic priests and oracles, or the "divine" seizures of the Assyro-Babylonians and Canaanites (nabiism) - seems to be a universal anthropo-psychological hypothesis, although such a hypothesis conveniently ignores altogether the idea that the Hebrews regarded such behavior as "madness," or a "state of dementia" (Heb. = tardemah; cf. Isa 29:10),4 and that they attributed this sort of ecstatic mania to "false prophets."5 Finally, let me point out that this type of ecstasy (i.e. the loss of conscious faculties as in divine seizure) was condemned by the rabbinic school (e.g., the talmudic rabbis, Maimonides, and so on), as well as by the early Church Fathers (as in the case of the Montanist heresy).6

    Now although we reject the idea of ecstatic frenzy as practiced by numerous pagan cultures, we accept the idea that the Hebrew Prophets experienced something, perhaps a mystical state of conscious rapture or some form of transcendent experience. The primary difference between the experiences of the pagans and the experiences of the prophets is that the former produced nothing more than a "spasmodic," perhaps riddling utterance, whereas the latter produced an utterance which was deeply meaningful, in continuity and agreement with character of YHWH and the holy covenant.

    Moving on, now, to some of the features of apocalyptic theophanic visions (e.g. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, 1 Enoch, Revelation), we clearly see a pattern of fear, portrayal, approach, communication, and ultimately special revelation, although the Danielic vision could be more likened to a dream (cf. Dan 7), so there are some variations from this pattern. Nevertheless, in these theophanic visions, we are given the details of a great portrait, but for some reason we can't really grasp the images painted on the canvas of our minds. The portrait, though well-defined by the prophet, seems to evade us in some way - it simply defies the imagination. Yet "the word of YHWH" proceeds forth loud and clear, and in my view, this is the great beauty of the apocalyptic theophanic vision. While the portrayal of the vision inspires the disciplined, sanctified mind to enter into the prophet's mind (to some extent), it is the words and symbols that emanate from the vision which carry the weight of the inspired authorial intent. So, although it is difficult to decipher the meaning of the symbols (especially in a hyper-literal sense), there are certain symbols in the apocalyptic vision which can be hermeneutically determined (to a degree) because of their context and repetition. Thus, let us now turn our attention to this other very important feature of the apocalyptic literary genre, namely symbolism.


    Indeed, symbolism plays a critical role in apocayptic writings, and in most cases, the symbols themselves are nothing short of strange and bizarre. For instance, the prophets portray such things to us as The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek 37), The heavenly Throne-Chariot of God (Ezek 1; Isa 66:15-16), The Four Great Beasts of Daniel (Dan 7), The Four Horsemen of Zechariah and Revlelation (Zech 6; Rev 6), The Beasts from the Sea and Earth (Rev 13), and so on. And the pseudepigraphal writings invoke their own symbols as well - those writings from the Hasmonean period draw on their canonical prototypes in the Prophets, and those writings from the sub-apostolic era draw on the New Testament, some pre-Christian pseudepigraphal literature, and also on the Prophets.

    Interestingly, such symbolism is unparalleled in the sacred writings of the world, yet these symbols have captivated the imaginations of millions, primarily because of their eschatological nature. The principal question is, "How are we to interpret these symbols"? And indeed, this is a difficult question to answer. For instance, as we have seen in our day, certain people have appealed to a very rigid interpretation of apocalyptic symbols, superimposing their hermeneutic onto the geo-political stage, their underlying hope (perhaps subconscious) being that they are living in the time of the eschaton. And interestingly, we find such parallels throughout Judeo-Christian history, one example being the pesharim of the Qumran community, where we find certain ancient prophecies superimposed onto the religio-political circumstances of their time.7 At any rate, the contemporary hyper-literal approach has proven irresponsible at best, and to this day, every predictive inference has proved to fail. In all fairness, though, the problem does not lie in the sincerity of the hyper-literalist, but rather, in the misunderstanding between the genre of prophecy with the genre of apocalyptic.

    So, the question remains, "How do we differentiate between the genre of prophecy and the genre of apocalyptic," because, on the one hand, the two genres are interrelated, yet on the other, they are to be distinguished from one another? Perhaps two or three examples will suffice in demonstrating the distinction.

    First, let's take a look at a prophetic text. In Mic 5:2, for instance, the prophet fortells that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Certainly, we can understand this in a literal sense, even as the chief priests and scribes in Herod the Great's court understood this text (cf. Matt 2:3ff.). In the prophetic text of Micah, there are no features of apocalyptic literature (except perhaps by implication); thus, it is a clear prophecy which can be understood in a very literal sense. Again, in Isa 53:7, the prophet tells us that the Servant (Messiah) will be "oppressed and afflicted," yet He will "open not his mouth" (53:14). Indeed, so precise is this prophecy that those with a naturalistic bent will claim that this incident is not historical, but rather, a fictional superimposition which, along with Aqedah theology (Gen 22) and the Yom Kippur motif, was utilized to construct a Passion Narrative onto the life of Jesus. (In the minds of these critical scholars, Jesus was simply seized when he threatened the Temple establishment and he was immediately crucified (without trial) as an ordinary criminal, his body fed to the carrion in the wilderness).8 Nevertheless, for those who presuppose the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, prophecies are, to a degree, fairly precise.

    Yet in apocalyptic literature, the coming of the "Divine Warrior" (YHWH) is set forth in a different light. Whereas precision is characteristic of prophecy, impressionism is characteristic of apocalyptic. Isa 63:1-6 and Isa 66:15-16 are clear regarding the coming vindication of the "Divine Warrior." However, in classic apocalyptic style, the symbolism is such that it is impossible to infer specific details - in fact, to do so would be a hermeneutical error. So, in reading the apocalyptic texts we are certain that the Dies Irae will be realized in the eschaton, but to speculate about how or when it will occur is simply futile, demonstrating an ignorance of the distinction between the genre of prophecy and the genre of apocalyptic.

    Nevertheless, within the genre of apocalyptic literature, there are certain symbols which lend to a more precise inference - e.g. the Four Great Beasts of the Sea as foretold by the prophet Daniel. However, there is a difference of opinion among scholars regarding the meaning of the symbols (i.e. the beasts), yet the differences are informed by philosophical biases rather than by pure historical investigation (although a good case can be argued from both sides). Essentially, those scholars who opt for sixth century BC authorship will interpret the successive beasts as representative of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, whereas those scholars who opt for second century BC authorship will interpret the successive beasts as representative of Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.9 Thus, for the latter, the Book of Daniel is one of vaticina ex eventu.

    Nevertheless, there is agreement (for the most part) among scholars that the Four Great Beasts from the Sea represent suzerain nations which would possess the land of Israel as a province or territory of their vast empires. The symbolism of the beasts, whether lion, bear, leopard, or ten-horned beast, invoke images of aggression, terror, and conquest. And like the Python or Nine-Headed Hydra of Greek mythology, or the Lotan of the Ugaritic texts, the Danielic beasts arise from "the sea" (7:2), which in ancient times was considered the domain of evil. Some scholars, however, would appeal to Rev 17:15 especially to demonstrate that "the sea" is representative of humanity (i.e. "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues). I point out the differing opinions to indicate that, even with regard to certain symbols which are somewhat self-evident from Scripture, in apocalyptic literature it is sometimes difficult to be dogmatic. Therefore, it is best to imagine the grandeur of the whole symbolic vision, rather than to try and decipher the parts. In the apocalyptic literary genre, it is precisely the entirety and the whole of the symbolic vision that evokes literary power.

    In sum, then, both vision and symbol are central to the genre of apocalyptic. Along with the other features of apocalyptic literature, they contribute to a style of writing which does not intend to be understood in terms of wooden literalism; but rather, the author is appealing to the disciplined, or sanctified imagination in order to cause the reader to think, to wonder, to imagine, and to contemplate that which is unfathomable. Perhaps the author is writing of the fall of Babylon (Isa 13:9-10), or the destruction of Jerusalem (Exek 21), or the coming of the Divine Warrior (Zech 14:3-4) -- in any case, the language employed is grandiose, magnific, terrible, awesome, and even frightening. Indeed, it is apocalyptic . . . .


    1. Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
    1977, p. 5, note 21.

    2. Hanson, Paul D. The Dawn of Apocalyptic. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979, p. 7.

    3. Cross, Frank Moore. The Ancient Library of Qumran. Minneapolis: Fortress,
    1995, p. 145.

    4. Heschel, Abraham J. The Prophets. 2 Vols. New York: HarperCollins,
    1962, Vol. 2, p. 118.

    5. Ibid., p. 118.

    6. Ibid., p. 120-23.

    7. Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday,
    1993, p. 558.

    8. cf. the writings of John Dominic Crossan

    9. Russell, D.S. Daniel. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981.