What’s the Difference between Individuals in Luke 17:34-35? Why were Two Seized and Two Let Go?

These two verses have puzzled both casual Bible readers and serious Bible scholars for centuries. Because of how the passage was edited and amended, we’re supposed to believe that it refers to the last judgment, ang God is the judge. But on what basis? If the passage is a warning, what are we being warned against?

Luke 17:34-35 is not about a final judgment. It is not about God. It is not about a futuristic eschatological destiny.

These verses are a trial summary, a verdict in an actual trial. The defendants were two couples. Each couple was mixed ethnicity, what we might call interracial, Jew and gentile. One was subject to The Law, one was not.

That was the reason for the differing treatment.

The charges were the same: sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

This was a crime for Jews since Jews were subject to the Torah and its legal extrapolations. But only Jews (generally speaking).

But gentiles were not subject to Torah. They couldn’t be charged with a Torah crime the way a Jew could.

But the crime was not based on territorial boundaries, which is what we’re used to.

Imagine you’re a Jew, and you’re forbidden to eat shrimp. There’s no shrimp restaurant in Jerusalem.

So you travel to Damascus. There’s a shrimp restaurant, and you go in and eat a bowl of shrimp.

If Saul of Tarsus is nearby, and he has his papers on him, he can arrest you for Torah violation and take you to Jerusalem to stand trial.

He arrests you not because you’re in Jerusalem, because you’re not. He arrests you because you’re a Jew breaking the Jewish law.

A Jew was forbidden to have gay sex anywhere, in Jerusalem, Damascus, or Rome. If a duly authorized person, like the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, so long as he’s got his I.D. on him (his papers), can arrest you and take you to a Jewish court for trial no matter where he catches you.

A gentile could be prosecuted under Jewish law ONLY if the local magistrate were authorized by covenant or custom to impose Torah on gentiles, only in a Jewish court.

There was one law for the Jew and the non-Jew alike according to Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22. But this could be enforced only in a Jewish court.

Obviously a gentile from Gadara could not simply say, “I’d like to kill someone. I think I’ll go to Jerusalem next week.” The government had to protect it’s people. There had to be ways to maintain order.

But in one of the towns on the periphery, a town that was half Jews and half gentiles, the situation was not so cut and dry. At the village council, a thief would be convicted by a mixed court of Jews and non-Jews. But convicting a gay or a lesbian would not be a guaranteed slam dunk in a community with social diversity.

Those verses, Luke 17:34-35, they are a trial summary from a Roman court. In the Roman court, the gentile defendants could not be judged by Jewish laws because they weren’t Jewish.


To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, click here.

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A List of Posts on the Trial of the Gay Jew Jesus

This is a list of what I have published on the trial of the Gay Jew Jesus.

Quest for the Historical Jesus, or Discovery of an Unknown Trial?

What are “Zakkai’s Formularies”?

ySanhedrin 7:5

Massekhet Semahot 8:7

Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2

Gay Jew Jesus: The Words in Luke 17:34-35 Were Not Spoken BY Jesus, But Were ABOUT Jesus and His Companions

Gay Jew Jesus; Revising the Original Version

The Trial: What Did We Know and When Did We Know It?

Understanding the Talmudic Evidence for a Trial

Understanding the Evidence that a Trial Occurred from Josephus

Evidence from Josephus of the Trial Judge: Philip the Tetrarch

Evidence from Josephus’ of the Trial Judge: Philip the Tetrarch

Gospel Evidence of an Under-Reported Trial

Talmudic Evidence of a Trial Prosecuted by Yohanan b. Zakkai

Gay Jew Jesus: Evidence a Trial Took Place

Gay Jew Jesus: A Little Explanation

Gay Jew Jesus: Trial and Execution

Yohanan b. Zakkai and the Galilean Persecution

Bethsaida in Q and John

Anti-Gay Persecution in the Bible

Where did this Theory Come From?

What is the “Pericope Eiusdem Sexus?

An Independent Scholar and His Admission

The Persecution You Never Heard About

So Why Did Jesus Mention Sodom ?

Summary: The Galilee Episode

The Bethsaida Four

Anti-LGBTQ Opportunism Now and Before

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“Jesus was a Gay Jew. Evidence Please.”

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.  

ySanhedrin 7.5

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)

Shabbat 16:7b 

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.  

Matthew 24:26 


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.

Luke 12:1-3 

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but can’t kill the soul.  

Luke 12:6a 

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. 

Luke 12:11-12 

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 

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.

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The Guilty Species

Christendom did not invent irrational guilt. I have my ideas about it’s evolutionary survival value, but we are “the guilty species.” Every successful ideology has embedded within it some element of guilt.

Any elements of “what we owe to our ancestors”, or “the debt we owe to our forebearers”, or “what we owe to the biosphere”, or “what we owe to God”, or “the debt we owe to those fought in this struggle in the past” — all these are part of what me also call “guilt”.

Whether we’re talking about “white guilt” or “irrational guilt” or “victim mentality” or “internalized self-hatred” or “survivor guilt” or “original sin” or “self blame” or “blame the victim” — these are all evidence that we are…

The Guilty Species.

There are few tools that motivate us primates quite as well as guilt. Parents use it. Leaders use it. Political parties use it. Religions use it. The SPCA and UNICEF use it.

We use it on ourselves.

So stop blaming yourself. It’s in your genes. Everyone else is doing it, too.

It works on anyone. Anyone except for sociopaths. But they didn’t create the tool. They just use it better.

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ySanhedrin 7.5

The following passage is from the Talmud, and is attributed to Yohanan b. Zakkai (ca. 1-80 C.E., Galilee, Jerusalem, Yavneh).


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.

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).

ySanhedrin 7.5 (Jacob Neusner, A Life of Yohanan Ben Zakkai, Ca. 1-80 C.E., note 1, 93-94)

If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

(Leviticus 20:16)


To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, please come back later. That page is under construction.

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What Are “Zakkai’s Formularies”?

Zakkai’s Formularies are what I call three legal documents in the Talmud that I am convinced were used by Yohanan b. Zakkai to prosecute gay and lesbian couples in first-century Galilee. According to this conjecture, two trials were adjudicated (judged) by Philip the Tetrarch.

Zakkai’s Formularies consist of three passages: 1) Massekhet Semahot 8.7, 2) ySanhedrin 7.5, and 3) Mishna Sanhedrin 1.2.

Formulary documents were often used when Romans and non-Romans faced off in Roman courts. Because the Roman Empire recognized the courts and legal systems of conquered peoples, formulary documents had evolved to regularize and simplify court proceedings. Although formularies were initially developed for use in civil cases, the principles of clarity and ease of use affected criminal procedure as well.

Governing an empire made the incorporation of foreigners a necessity. Non-Romans were called peregrines. The Roman senate created a special office to deal with legal cases involving peregrines, the office of the Peregrine Praetor. Thus began a tradition of how peregrines functioned judicially in a Roman jurisdiction. Throughout the empire, depending on the court chosen by the peregrines, non-Romans interacted legally according to the laws and customs of their country of origin. Thus, in Rome itself, an Egyptian court could be convened wherein Egyptians could, if they chose, engage legally according to Egyptian laws and customs. The choice of courts, even judges, was up to the participants during the era of the Republic.

During the Formulary period, the qualities of multi-lingual and multi-cultural clarity and ease-of-use spread in two ways. First, these pragmatic values spread geographically, out from Rome into the provinces. Second, these qualities spread from civil law into criminal law.

Zakkai’s Formularies translated the anti-gay legal policies of Judea into understandable, Roman language. R. Yohanan had to use Roman-style formularies for two basic reasons.

First, the Jerusalem Temple state was  undoubtedly accustomed to enforcing Jewish law on non-Jews in their own jurisdiction. It was their territory, they followed their own rules, and everybody knew it. There are two scripture passages that justified the application of the law to both nationals and foreigners, Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 .

One passage, Exodus 12:49, reads, “The same law shall apply to both the native-born and the stranger who dwells among you.” The Leviticus passage reads, “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God.”

But the Romans had no laws absolutely forbidding all same-sex intimacy. All male citizens, even highly placed Roman males, were allowed to have what we would call gay sex, but only in the so-called active position, and never with another Roman.

Because of this difference between Roman legal mores and Jewish, R. Yohanan b. Zakkai had to formulate a legal argument in order to convince the Rome-approved Jewish judge, Philip the Tetrarch, that it was legally valid for Jewish courts–in an official Roman jurisdiction– to order the execution of gentile gays and lesbians caught having sex with Jews. For reasons not discussed in this post, that jurisdiction was the recently elevated Roman polis Bethsaida-Julias, and the nearby town of Chorazin.

The judge rendered what today we might call a narrow decision. It is conceivable that Philip the Tetrarch could have ruled in favor of Torah, that Jewish courts were allowed to prosecute and sentence gay and lesbian gentiles in an officially Roman city. This verdict would have had disastrous repercussions in his Jewish-minority jurisdiction.

Or Philip could have decided enough was enough and ruled that the Jewish courts could not prosecute or sentence any same-sex transgressors at all, whether Jew or gentile. This verdict would have forcibly subordinated Jewish law to Roman law, which would have been anathema to…Rome. The age-old practice of the successful Roman empire was to allow local peoples and tribes to govern and adjudicate themselves according to their own laws and traditions. Subject peoples were not required (generally) to submit to Roman law.

Instead of rendering a blanket decision, instead of caving or subjugating, Philip’s decretum (decision) ruled that R. Yohanan was allowed to continue enforcing Torah against transgressing gay and lesbian Jews. He was not, however, allowed to prosecute or execute non-Jewish gays and lesbians in an official Roman territory.

The judge’s decision didn’t change anything; he only upheld what was the status quo in Roman territory. Jews governed Jews, and every other people group likewise governed itself according to its laws and traditions.

The three portions of Talmud we’re calling Zakkai’s Formularies, which argued for the execution of gay and lesbian gentiles in Roman territory, were recently gathered by Rabbi Professor Jacob Neusner. He put them in a single footnote near the center (page 93) of his 1962 book, A Life of Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai, Ca. 1-80 C.E., published by E.J. Brill. Neusner’s book is often available from online booksellers.

Near the center of the footnote he says the meaning of the three passages is “obvious”, but carefully refrains from using words like “homosexual”, “lesbian”, “gay”, etc.

Zakkai’s Formularies state that the destruction of animate and inanimate objects, not normally subject to Torah, are commanded to be destroyed when they are connected with sexual transgression (sexual worship at the high places, and beastiality). Using standard Talmudic reasoning (qal va homer, or lesser-to-greater) these commands are extrapolated to include gay and lesbian gentiles. Their coordinated use by Pharisee prosecutors like R. Yohanan b. Zakkai to justify the execution of gentile sexual transgressors, people who would not normally be subject to the Jewish legal system.


To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, please come back later. That page is under construction..
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Believing in Hell

Before Xanax and Valium, before 12 years of compulsory desk-sitting, before stun guns, before “delayed gratification” awareness, scaring some primates into behaving with the threat of hell was an effective, if imperfect, herd management tool.

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Quest for the Historical Jesus, OR Discovery of th toe Unknown Trial

Someone wrote that I was on the classic Quest for the Historical Jesus, and that my theory was based solely on the hazy meaning of Luke 17:34-35.

He was not yet aware of some key facts about the Bethsaida Trial conjecture.

First, there are three sources for the details of the Bethsaida Trial: one passage from Josephus, four passages from the Talmud, and one passage from Luke.

The Josephus passage gives us a lengthy description of the judge. The four passages from the Talmud give us the prosecutor and several of his actual trial documents. And Luke gives us the four defendants and the disposition of the trial.

Josephus’ gives us Herod’s son Philip the Tetrarch, who ruled Bethsaida from 4 BCE to CE 34.

The Talmud gives us the Pharisee Yohanan b. Zakkai, who later founded Rabbinic Judaism. He was stationed in Upper Galilee from ca CE 20 to CE 40.

Luke gives us the defendants, two mixed ethnicity same-sex couples. The trial summary is in Luke 17.

They were all present in Bethsaida at the same time.

No single source contains all the facts. The trial events were embarrassing for all the sources concerned. As a result, no source preserved an complete account of the trial.

Together, however, we can assemble the major features of the trial. Archaeology confirms a significant detail.

The conjectured Bethsaida Trial is not based on the haziness of Luke 17:34-35 combined with some clever guess work. Each of the three sources contributes details which would otherwise be missing.

This is not the classic Quest for the Historical Jesus.

This is the Discovery of the Unknown Trial. You may or may not see Jesus of Palestine sitting there.


To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, click here.

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Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2

Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:2

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…


This Talmud passage can be found on page 93 of Jacob Neusner’s book, A Life of Yohanan b. Zakkai, Ca. 1-80 C.E., published by E.J. Brill, which can often be purchased online.


To see a list of other posts related to the Evidence, the Bethsaida Trial and the Gay Jew Jesus, click here.

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Gay Jew Jesus: Luke 17:34-35 was not Spoken BY Jesus, but is ABOUT Jesus

The realization that Jesus was a gay Jew came to me at the end of a decade of research. A year ago I was forced to answer the question, “What do you really believe happened?”

I’ve known for years that some people believed that Jesus was gay, but I thought that since conservatives saw a conservative Jesus, and liberals saw a liberal Jesus, and communists saw a communist Jesus, that apparently some gays and lesbians simply saw a gay Jesus.

I once blogged about the John the Beloved Disciple. I acknowledged that some of the language surrounding “the apostle Jesus loved”, how John put his head on Jesus’ bosom (John 13:23) was highly suggestive, very persuasive. But it didn’t seem to be what’s called “proof”.

Some people have suggested that I have been a victim of confirmation bias, that I simply interpreted what I read in Luke 17:34-35 to fit what I wanted to believe. Few of them will be disabused of the idea, and it’s okay that they believe that.

What did I do? I looked in the evidence box with a fresh pair of eyes, read the notes of previous investigators, studied some previously inaccessible trial transcripts, and checked the newspaper archive. When I started this investigation I didn’t know where it would lead.

Someone had drawn my attention to Luke 17:34, and I was astonished. “Why didn’t I see that before? Two men in one bed.” No way was I convinced though, that the couples were gay and lesbian. I just knew it was a possibility. I knew that if this were true, it would take more than a casual comment like, “I think they might be gay.”

After months of digging into the evidence, I repeatedly expressed my excitement to Diane. Even then I doubted that I had proven the gendered pairs were same-sex couples.

When I was finally convinced, by the evidence, I was excited, then appalled, appalled for days. I walked around the house muttering, “Jesus used gutter language to talk about lesbian sex.” I was disgusted.

At one point in 2009 I told my wife, “I don’t think I can write about this. I just can’t.” After a week I reminded myself that the Hebrew Bible used “grind” sexually in many places, so by definition the sexual idiom “grind” was acceptable. If the word is in the Bible, it’s acceptable, right?

Phase I concluded this way, “Luke 17:34-35 refers to two gay and lesbian couples. But I don’t know what it’s about–yet.”

Phase II began with me learning that Yohanan b. Zakkai (Ribaz) was stationed in Galilee at the same time Jesus was reportedly active there. Ribaz was the chief Pharisee in Galilee, furthering the interests of the Jerusalem temple-state in Upper Galilee (northern Palestine). Some decades later, after the destruction of Jerusalem, R. Yohanan became the founder of Rabbinic Judaism at Yavneh.

After study, I realized that Yohanan b. Zakkai was a legitimate representative of government interests, whose main advantage was his expertise in Jewish law, the Torah.

I was concerned that people might think I was anti-Semitic, casting a Pharisee as the villain the way Luther did the Jews. The possibility that I might inadvertently encourage anti-semitism was a grave concern for me.

Phase II concluded, “Yohanan b. Zakkai was focused on the legal and political concerns of the Temple state. He is on record arguing for the execution of lesbian gentiles.”

Phase III concerned Philip the Tetrarch, his legal reputation and his role in the region.

In the long-range plan to incorporate the Tetrarch’s territory into the empire, Philip was already the final court of appeal in regional disputes between the various peregrine groups (non-Romans). His jurisdiction was overwhelmingly Bedouin, that is, nomadic Arabs. The number of Jews in his territory was fairly small.

One part of his imperial absorption plan was to elevate the status of Bethsaida, a lake port town, to that of official city of the empire, an imperial polis. That legal designation became official in 30 C.E. We know this from numismatic archaeological evidence, a commemorative coin.

This elevation of Bethsaida to imperial polis marked a definite power shift toward Rome (4,050 miles away) and away from Jerusalem (83 miles away).

In the days of Rome, when a locale was elevated in status like this, the local Roman surrogate ruler would submit a city charter to the Roman senate for final approval.

These charters were not off-the-shelf boiler-plate. Local issues were hammered out ahead of time, relying on precedent, custom, and prior agreements which were incorporated into the final draft of the city charter.

The Bethsaida Trial was part of hammering-out that incremental absorption process, the part initiated by the local stakeholders as they respond to the plans.

The situation was analogous to a negotiated cease-fire between combatants, or a player shifting his position before the snap in football. One side sought an improved position prior to some critical moment. 

The timing of the arrests and the filing of charges was likely calculated to precede the final draft of the city charter. The sexual nature of the criminal trial was likely strategically selected by Jewish Pharisees based on the desired legal ruling. In strategic legal planning, the kind of case needed, the timing, and the venue are mapped out in advance. I must note that this surmise of strategic planning goes beyond the present evidence.

The 30 C.E. date of Bethsaida’s status change is a historical fact. The existence of the Luke 17:34-35 is a fact. That its genre is legal writing is the position of Canadian Q scholar William E. Arnal. The overlap of the jurisdictions of Philip the Tetrarch and Yohanan b. Zakkai in 30 C.E. is a historical fact. That Jewish legal texts confirm that R. Yohanan argued for the execution of gentile lesbians caught having sex with Jewish lesbians is a neglected but verifiable fact. We owe our thanks to R. Jacob Neusnern for this information on Yohanan b. Zakkai. He never, however, to my knowledge made the argument I am putting forward here.

From these facts I conclude that Luke 17:34-35 is a record of Philip the Tetrarch’s adjudication of a trial in which two mixed-ethnicity same-sex couples were charged under Jewish law to be sexual transgressors for the strategic purpose of officially placing a narrow segment of gentiles under the jurisdiction of Jewish law in an official Roman territory.

These are the facts, and the main conclusions based on those facts. Whether a person is an orthodox believer, is questing for the historical Jesus, or is a total mythicist, these facts should at some point be taken into account.

Questions remain. If it is confirmed that Philip the Tetrarch is the source of the Luke 17 gendered couplet as the verdict in the postulated trial, then what were the circumstances of its inclusion in the Q Source? And more precisely, did Jesus say it, or was it included by a scribe and subsequently attributed to Jesus?

If the present conjecture regarding the Luke 17 couplet is confirmed, and if the interpreter has previously concluded that the historical Jesus actually uttered Philip’s ruling, several questions arise.

Why was Jesus talking about the trial(s) of two sexually transgressive couples? Why would Jesus be interested in this? Why would his audience be interested in this? Why would scribes have preserved Philip’s ruling, at all?

The following question is for academics who accept critical theories regarding how the gospels were composed. Since we find numerous Jesus sayings augmented to become homiletically useful stories, why was this couplet abandoned in a swirl of relatively unassociated detritus?

These are just a few of the questions to be answered if a reader believes that the historical Jesus uttered the gendered couplet in Luke 17.

Assume for a moment that you are not committed to the position that “the historical Jesus” uttered those words. If you eventually accept the idea that they were originally a trial summation by Philip the Tetrarch, a similar set of questions arise.

Why was a scribe writing about the trial(s) of two pairs of sexual transgressors? Why would the scribe be interested in them? Why would his audience be interested in them? Why would scribes have preserved Philip’s new policy summary at all?

Phase IV was the completion of my book, The Galilee Episode. Unfortunately, even my scholarly readers weren’t understanding my point. They told me, “You obviously think you’ve proven your case, but you haven’t.” “There may be a thesis buried in there somewhere, but I can’t find it.” One reader, a fundamentalist scholar and translator, wished me luck with my continues research but said, “Bizarre. Too big a paradigm shift for me.”

The original audience of the Luke 17:34-35 material was interested in same-sex legal policy because there were homoerotic individuals and couples in that audience. What percentage of that community were sexual minorities is difficult to determine.

This trial was of great general interest. Relations between Jews and other groups, other peregrine peoples (non-Romans) were a perennial source of friction and conflict, and were in this competition caused this postulated litigation.

Interest in a trial where the rights of both sexual minorities and ethnic minorities were at stake would have been widespread.

I have concluded that Jesus did not utter the sentences in Luke 17:34-35, but was one of the subjects of the first sentence. Jesus was the Jew siezed for execution in verse 34.

Jesus the Palestinian and his gentile partner, together with a similar mixed-ethnicity lesbian couple, were charged with sexual transgression by Yohanan b. Zakkai under Jewish law. Philip the Tetrarch ruled that the Jewish transgressors were subject to Jewish law as usual, but the gentile peregrines (non-Romans) were not subject to Jewish law, again as usual.

Thus, Jesus was executed under Jewish law with the approval of the Rome-approved magistrate Philip the Tetrarch.

This is the explanation of the Bethsaida trial. This explains why why the words of Luke 17:34-35 were not uttered by Jesus, but were about Jesus and his friends.

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