The dominant master narrative about the disciples states that the disciples were Jesus’ personal followers,
whom he had sought out and appointed. Many of them were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee; after their encounters with Jesus they left their work and families to join Jesus, the itinerant preacher. Peter was the leader of the disciples; he and the brothers James and John were the most important disciples.
And these are my theses about the disciples: Jesus’ disciples were not fishermen. They were preachers of the astrological Age of Pisces (the star sign), the new spring constellation that they interpreted as a heavenly sign of God’s kingdom that they were expecting.
Jesus’ disciples were not his personal followers.
The disciples were independent political and religious leaders in early Christianity; the great disciples James, John and Peter aspired to succeed Jesus as Messiah after his death.
An ecumenical movement: between 62 and 64 AD the Apostolic Council took place in Jerusalem, where Paul and Barnabas,
the Apostles to the Gentiles, met the heads of the Palestinian Jesus Groups of Peter, James and John.
Reports about the Apostolic Council show that the Jesus Groups in Palestine still existed as separate organisations but that they worked together, and that Paul and Barnabas were recognised as representing the Gentile Christian church, but their work was also viewed with distrust.
The encounter: the Jesus Groups from the different movements
met each other during their missionary activities. They recognised that they had a lot in common and worked together, but retained their separate structures and links with their original movements.
The most important event of the mission in Palestine was that the Jesus Groups founded communities in Jerusalem, though these remained strictly separate along confessional lines until the end of the Jewish Revolt. The Israelite group of James was transformed during this process from a Samaritan to a Jewish-Christian Jesus Group.
The Jesus Groups did not restrict themselves to peaceful missions; they also played a robust role in social conflicts. One example for this is the execution of James and Peter in 46 AD, probably after food riots in which they took a leading part.
The deaths of the two leading Apostles was a significant turning point in the history of early Christianity.
Original movements and Jesus Groups: the Samaritans, the baptism sect and the Gnostics around Simon Magus
had few solid structures and little in the way of binding dogmas. They were groups with many different views, and Messianic ideas were widespread at the time, so Jesus’ followers within these movements could form groups without leaving the movement.
What we seen in the Gospels are a range of interpretations of Jesus that can be attributed to the movements named and to which we can allocate disciples’ names. These names are James (Israelites), John (Baptists) and Simon Peter (Gnostics).
These men clearly led Jesus Groups that remained within their movements. We can see the conflicts among the Christian Jews that they were confronted with. The disputes always focused on the issue of how far a Jesus Group could or should distinguish itself within the parent movement.
The interpretation of Jesus’ death as a betrayal: Judas. Josephus calls the Christians sons of Judas the Galilean,
because he brackets all Christians together as supporters of the insurrection. The opposite is true in the Christian sources: the relationship between Christians and Judas is not denied, but Jesus is the patron and the rebels are only pupils, and unworthy ones at that, since they gave Jesus’ enemies and excuse to kill him.
Nor do the Gospels hide the rebels’ opinion: in the scene of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66ff par.) Peter is identified as a participant in Judas the Galilean’s rebellion due to his Galilean dialect: he is accused of betraying Jesus’ cause, which is identified with the rebels’ cause.
The crucifixions of James and Peter show that the Palestinian Jesus movements were by no means always non-violent and that they did not refuse all collaboration with the rebels. That only changed after the end of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.
Peter and James, founders of the churches of Peter and James
(explanations to follow) died in 46 AD: Ant. 20.5.2.
Paul was converted to Peter’s version of Christianity between 48 and 50 AD. As I will show, Paul lived at the court of the Roman governor Paulus before his conversion; however the latter took up the position of governor of Cyprus in 48 AD at the earliest.
The Apostolic Council took place between 62 and 64 AD, 14 years after Paul’s conversion (Gal. 2:1) that can be dated at about 49 AD.
The Apostolic Age ended in 70 AD when Jerusalem and Herod’s temple were destroyed.
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.
The traditional narrative about Flavius Josephus and his significance as a source for Jesus’ life and for the origins of Christianity states that if Josephus had known about Jesus and the Christians,
of course he would have mentioned them. Since he did not mention them, the Christian sect was obviously so insignificant that he did not know about them or at least did not consider them worth mentioning.
The Testimonium Flavianum (Ant. 18, 3, 3) is rightly considered to be a Christian insertion. So the only historical information about Christian issues in Josephus is the mention of the stoning of the Lord’s brother James in Ant. 20, 9, 1 and the report about John the Baptist in Ant. 18, 5, 2.
I advocate the following opinion on this topic: as early as under Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) the well-known edict already existed stating that the emperor drove the Jews out of Rome because they were causing a disturbance, spurred on by a certain Chrestos (=Christ): see Suetonius, Claudius, 25, 4; compare Acts of the Apostles 18:2. We may assume that Josephus had plenty of contacts in Rome, and he must have been aware of the Roman Christian community to which Paul had already addressed an epistle.