Recently someone left a simple, reasonable FB comment: “Jesus was a gay Jew. Evidence please.”
In this post I am providing that evidence in one place. I will provide a brief introduction, as brief as possible.
The evidence I found is a bit complicated, but it isn’t brain surgery.
Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews
Among the many significant details in Josephus’ brief description of the rule of Philip the Tetrarch, the thing to note now is the focus on his judicial practice and style.
About this time it was that Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius: after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulanitis, and of the nation of the Bataneans also, thirty-seven years.
He had shewed himself a person of moderation and quietness in the conduct of his life and government. He constantly lived in that country which was subject to him.
He used to make his progress with a few chosen friends. His tribunal also, on which he sat in judgment, followed him in his progress: and when any one met him, who wanted his assistance, he made no delay, but had his tribunal set down immediately, wheresoever he happened to be; and sat down upon it, and heard his complaint. He there ordered the guilty that were convicted to be punished: and absolved those that had been accused unjustly.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.4.6
Philip the Tetrarch ruled nearly 40 years over the territory that included Bethsaida, from 4 BCE to 34 CE. Subject peoples handled justice matters internally, except for death penalty cases and conflicts between peoples. Philip’s territory was majority Bedouin Arab with a small number of Jews. In this passage Josephus does not mention Jews among Philip’s subjects, although he mentions them elsewhere.
These passages are from the major Rabbinic legal code, the Talmud. As such, they describe the trial, and practices associated with the trial, from the perspective of law enforcement and prosecution.
In the following passages note the following four items. First, Yohanan b. Zakkai was located in Galilee, which we learn from the mention of ‘Arav, a small town located in Upper Galilee.
Second, notice that Yohanan b. Zakkai answers a question posed by a person labeled “Antigonus the Prince”. The Antigonus figure appears several times in the Talmud asking for legal clarification from R. Yohanan.
Historically, several notable figures are named “Antigonus”, all of whom were long dead by the time Yohanan b. Zakkai was born.
A third notable element is the detailed paragraph on entrapment technique and goals. Some experts have noted that “Ben Stada of Lod” was probably Jesus, and that the mode of execution was stoning.
The fourth thing to note are the three legal arguments for charging and sentencing sexual transgressors. I believe these arguments are actual trial documents called formularies. Formularies evolved in Roman courts for cases involving peregrines (non-Romans) for efficient, less ritualized trials.
The phrase “behold it is a deduction” in the Massekhet Semahot and ySanhedrin passages is the sign that Jewish legal language is being translated into Roman legal principals.
These first three passages, “Zakkai’s Formularies”, are arguments for the execution of entities not typically subject to Torah, and are all related to sexual transgression. These are legal “work-arounds” to enforce the execution of gay and lesbian gentiles.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2; Tosefta Sanhedrin 3:2
Antigonus the Prince asked Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, “The ox will be stoned and the master also die (Ex. 21:29). Why?”
He said to him, “The accomplice of a thief is like a thief.”
When he went out, the student asked, “Master, this one you pushed away with a reed, but to us, what will you reply?”
He said to them, “It is written, The ox will be stoned and also its master will die…
Massekhet Semahot 8.7
The dorshe hamurot used to say, You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom thou shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars, and dash to pieces their pillars (Deut. 12:2-3). How did the wood and stones sin? But on account of them there came upon man confusion, and therefore Scripture said, You shall destroy their altars.
And behold it is a deduction: If in the case of stone and wood, which have neither merit nor demerit, neither good nor evil, because on their account confusion comes upon man, Scripture said to destroy their altars, a man who causes others to sin, and turns them from the way of life to the way of death, how much more so will he suffer.
And so too, if a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast, they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:16). If the woman sinned, what sin did the beast commit? But because there came upon man confusion on its account, Scripture said to kill the beast, that the cow should not go into the market place and people say, “See, there is the cow on whose account so-and-so was put to death.”
Yoḥanan b. Zakkai’s commentary follows here. [Neusner’s comment]
And behold, it is a matter of deduction: If in the case of the beast, who has neither merit nor demerit, because on its account man was brought into confusion, Scripture said to stone it, a man who causes his fellow to sin, and leads him from the way of life to the way of sin, how much the more (will he suffer).
(Jacob Neusner, A Life of Yohanan Ben Zakkai Ca. 1-80 CE, 1962, pp 93-94, note 1)
Rabbi Judah said: an incident came before Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai in ‘Arav [in Galilee] and he said, “I fear that he may be liable for a sin-offering.”
Tosefta Sanhedrin 10:11
For all the capital crimes that are in the Torah, they do not entrap except for the enticer. How? They send to him two Sages in the inner room, and he sits in the outer room, and they light a candle so that they can see him and hear his voice. And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lod—they appointed against him two Sages and they stoned him.
The Q Source (Luke and Matthew)
These passages are written from the perspective of the targets of criminal prosecution. Law enforcement is identified and its tactics described. The target community is warned that law enforcement will have comprehensive possession of the facts. Defendent mindset during a trial is addressed. There is, finally, the trial outcome.
So if anyone tells you, “There he is out in the wilderness,” do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it.
Be on your guard against the [yeast of the] Pharisees [which is hypocrisy].
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed,
or hidden that will not be made known.
What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight,
and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms
will be proclaimed from the roofs.
Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but can’t kill the soul.
When they bring you before the assemblies,
do not be anxious how or what you are to say;
For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that hour
what you are to say.
The following couplet, like the other passages from Luke, is written from the perspective of the targets, the defendants. The Talmud reflects the interests of law enforcement. The genre of this couplet was identified in 1997 by William E. Arnal as legal language.
I tell you, in that night,
two men will be in one bed,
one will be seized, and the other left.
Two women will be grinding together,
one will be seized, and the other left.
Luke 17:34-35 is the legal summary of Philip’s ruling. Yohanan b. Zakkai was allowed continued jurisdiction over Jewish sexual transgressors, and those individuals are “seized” for execution. The Pharisees was not, however, granted jurisdiction over the gentile partners. They were “left” or let go.
These three sources intersect to confirm the occurrence of a trial. Each source supplies one unique piece of information.
Josephus identifies the 50-something secular Jewish judge who ruled on the case, Philip the Tetrarch.
The Talmud names the brash 30-something Jewish prosecutor and political strategist, Yohanan b. Zakkai. Also, the Talmud records the prosecution’s specific charges and proposed sentencing.
Luke preserves the decision of Philip the Tetrarch, who ruled on the narrow grounds of jurisdiction, which was likely the object of R. Yohanan’s strategic goals.
Luke 17:34-35, the Gendered Couplet, is arguably vague by itself. But it serves to confirm the charges of sexual transgression contained in Zakkai’s Formularies. The reason for the differing outcomes for the two women and the two men has been a mystery for all of Christian history.
Neither being seized nor being left were a matter of divine knowledge of some person’s spiritual condition. The separation was judiciallly mandated in a human court and based on ethnicity, that is to say, “tribal” jurisdiction.
Philip allowed the Jews to be siezed for execution, but absolved the unjustly accused gentiles, releasing them unharmed. This is exactly how Josephus’ described the decisions of Philip the Tetrarch.
There he ordered the guilty that were convicted to be punished: and absolved those that had been accused unjustly.
So why was no coherent narrative of this actual trial preserved? The explanation is relatively simple. It was not in the interest of any of the sources to preserve the actual story.
One of Josephus’ main goals had been to rehabilitate the Jewish people in the eyes of the Romans. As much as possible he fixed the blame for the Judean rebellion on the so-called Zealots.
He did not want to blame the disastrous Judean turmoil on the surviving Pharisee leadership. Yohanan b. Zakkai’s prosecution of the mixed-ethnicity same-sex couples had been a skillful challenge to Roman hegemony. Rabbi Yohanan had tried to extend Jerusalem’s regional authority over non-Jews.
Reminding a new generation of Romans that the Jerusalem Temple state had mounted this legal challenge in direct competition with Rome — would not have been wise. Josephus’ did not preserve an intelligible account of this trial. Simply the judge’s name and reputation.
Similarly, the Pharisees did not want to enshrine in their own legal code a coherent trial narrative in which Torah enforcement was overruled by Rome.
To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, click here.