The first Passion performance: the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion
was so widely discussed was the result of a particular event described in the following:
The Jewish King Agrippa I went to Rome in 41 AD to pay his respects to Emperor Caligula (Ant. 19.4.1).
While there, he happened to witness the emperor’s murder. In this context Josephus refers (Ant. 19.1.13) to a theatrical performance on 24. 1. 41 AD, the day of the emperor’s death:
Here there were two new portents. In the first place a mime was presented in the course of which a chieftain (hegemon) is caught and crucified. Moreover, the play presented by the dancer was Cinyras, in which the hero and his daughter Myrrha are killed. Thus a great quantity of artificial blood was shed, what with the crucified man and Cinyras.
The crucified prince was the crucified Jesus, as the accompanying pantomime shows. To Roman ears the name Myrrha sounded like Maria, the mother of Jesus according to the legend. The myth of Myrrha (Ovid, Metamorphoses 10, 298-502) is about Myrrha’s incest with her father Cinyras. The allusion to the Christian faith in the Messiah’s virgin birth is clear. The origin of this belief is hinted at in an obscene way.
Herod’s dynasty came to an end with Agrippa II. When his father Agrippa I died in 44 AD,
he was too young to inherit the throne. He became king of Chalcis in Lebanon in 50 AD and king of Philip’s princedom in 53 AD, that he ruled for 41 years up to his death in 94 AD.
The great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD occurred during Agrippa II’s reign. Agrippa himself supported the Romans from the start, however, so he survived the rebellion with his position intact. Agrippa II was superintendent of the temple in Jerusalem before the rebellion, so he represented an element of continuity in Judaism before and after the rebellion.
The Old Testament accounts of Agrippa show that not only did he inherit Antipas’ kingdom, he also wanted to continue Jesus’ work
in founding an ideal Jewish monarchy. The church’s sensitive reaction in Acts 12:23 makes clear that the Apostles saw Agrippa as a rival.
Jewish standpoints evolved during Antipas’ rule and the main narrative threads of the Old Testament, the stories of David, the Kings and Joseph were all begun. Under Agrippa, these narrative threads were pursued further and the writing continued.
The efforts made to create great Jewish literature, imitating and also competing with Rome, and to found a great Jewish cultural tradition are noticeable in the text.
In thesis 2.2.1 the first part of the story of Joseph was interpreted to depict Jesus’ life up to his death. Joseph
(= Jesus) was killed by his brothers and buried. Under Agrippa the story continues: the next episode states that Joseph (now to be taken as representing Agrippa) was not killed; instead he was simply imprisoned and must now travel to a distant country, Egypt (= Rome).
Antipas’ reign was a time of conflicts, of disputes
between Jewish groups. Under Agrippa I this period was followed by a time of consolidation, agreement, and reconciliation.
In the story of Moses, Antipas was the Moses of Exodus to Numbers, followed by Agrippa, the Moses of Deuteronomy, the more social legislation in the Pentateuch.
In the history of the kings, King Ahab (= Antipas) who was continually in conflict with the prophet Elijah (= John the Baptist), was succeeded by the revolutionary Jehu (= Agrippa) who was anointed king by the prophet Elisha (= Jesus).
In the subsequent kings’ history, the Jewish King Hezekiah (= Agrippa) proved to be a diplomat capable of averting external threats without violence. The account of Sennacherib’s representative Rabshakeh and Lachish in 2 Kings 18 is modelled on the report about Petronius, the Roman legate in Syria as a representative of the Emperor Caligula in Ant. 18, 8, 2.
Jesus, the Christians and Christian tradition are actually mentioned by Josephus in the following texts:
1. Ant. 18, 4, 1: the Samaritan Messiah
2. Ant. 18, 3, 4: the temptation of Paulina
3. Ant. 19, 1, 13: Theatre performance in Rome in the presence of the Jewish King Agrippa I on 24 January 41, the day the Emperor Caligula was murdered
3.1. Crucifixion of a prince (hgemwn/hegemon),
3.2. Pantomime: The fable depicting the incest between Myrrha and her father Cinyras
4. Ant. 20, 5, 2: The governor Tiberius Alexander orders the crucifixion of James and Simon, the sons of Judas the Galilean.
5. Ant. 18, 2, 3: the newly founded city of Tiberias is settled.
Text No. 1 relates to Jesus’ execution; Nos. 2 and 3.2 are polemics against the Christian tradition of the virgin birth; No. 3.1 is an early performance of Jesus’ crucifixion as a play; No. 4 is an alternative report to Acts 12:1ff; No. 5 shows the historical context of the parable of the wedding banquet: Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24.