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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Gay Jew Jesus: Adapting the Original Version

After 10 years of blogging and digging and systematically reasoning based on the evidence, I have concluded that Jesus was gay.

When I finally admitted this to myself, and realized that I would have to share this publicly, I responded rather self-centeredly. I wondered, as a straight white male non-theist, “Where does that leave me?” Where do I fit into the story? I guess I’d be Philip the Tetrarch.

Jesus the Palestinian was gay, he was executed in Bethsaida just before 30 CE, and was the gay Jew mentioned in Luke 17:34. Jesus the Palestinian was “siezed” for execution.

The Q Source was originally a fuller account of Jesus’ teaching, community experience, trial, and execution. Back in the early first century, that whole historical episode was huge in the region.

Someone realized the value of the ethical richness and drama of the original story, but also realized that it would be of very limited use if two same-sex couples remained the focus of the drama.

Thus began a project to revise and expand the drama toward a different end. They needed to preserve the miscarriage of justice theme, the valuable ethical and moral teachings of the actual Jesus of Palestine, but lose the gay and lesbian element which would be a huge negative for audiences.

So the trial and execution elements were revised. The actual Pharisee and Roman surrogate were replaced or renamed, the location was changed from Bethsaida to Jerusalem, and the numerous same-sex couples were recast in various ways.

There were four main targets of the actual prosecution, the two mixed-ethnicity same-sex couples. The Jewish transgressors  were subject to Torah and were executed. The gentiles, one gay and one lesbian, were not subject to Torah and were released.

The names were not preserved in the legal summary of Luke 17:34-35. This was from an actual court document. The names were, however, preserved in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

Mary and Martha were the lesbian couple on trial. Mary was a surviving witness at Jesus’ execution, which makes her the lesbian gentile. Martha was the lesbian Jew, and was executed.

Jesus was executed as a sexual transgressor, while his gentile partner was released. His gentile partner was John. That name was changed to Lazarus in one story in order to obscure the connection. John’s connection to Jesus was already abundantly clear.

When he was on trial, some feared “Lazarus” was as good as dead. It is possible that during the original trial in Bethsaida, Jesus the Palestinian spoke in defense of his non-Jewish partner John, thereby saving his life, with words “given to him by the spirit.”

“The Seventy” were “sent out” in pairs. The canonical story is based on the sexually transgressive couples in Jesus’ community.

I know that many people have researched much of this material prior to me. There are many articles and books on the literary parallels between the gospels and contemporaneous novels. Researchers have been noting the parallels between the Jesus myth and other myths for centuries. There is a vigorous debate over how much, if any, of the Jesus myth is rooted in historical fact.

Were I thirty years younger, I’d write a book. But I’m probably not going to. A new age has begun, the Age of Covid. My health, and my eyesight, are deteriorating. But I will continue to discuss my research, hopefully for many years. Only you can figure out what this means for you and your community.

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Existential Trauma in Religious Primates

Some friends are discussing existential trauma. We primates experience existential trauma to different degrees, and often have different names for it.

Catholic primates acknowledge it as The Dark Night of the Soul.

As on any Bell Curve, some few primstes experience almost zero existential angst or ennui.

Me? I experience it a lot. I have felt it resolved or lessened the more I accept the fact that I am a large-brain primate called a human being.

Somehow we are descended from primates with brains that got larger because of the survival edge they gave us.

Alas, when our survival is not at stake as individuals the poor brains don’t know what to do with themselves.

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Jesus has Some Flocks We Don’t Know About, and Some We Know About and Hate

People who condemn the periodic violent outbursts of poor communities have not seen the long-range (and we’re talking decades and centuries), the long-range positive changes made in response to violence by the classes which govern.

Democracy, socialism, progressive streams–all these listen to past violence and injustice, and eventually institute structural changes which benefit the herd.

“And God heard their cry from heaven.” That was how one Hebrew writer described it, described that process of the herd listening to its own pain and eventually developing new structures.

The need to save face sometimes prevents one generation of primates from making necessary adaptations. So for a while our primate instinct for order prevails. There is no apparent change.

That doesn’t mean the kids aren’t listening and watching and thinking. Their parents may not be able to change, but “the next generation” will have their turn at bat, as they say. That baton will be inexorably passed on.

No one sacrifices in vain. Our larger populations eventually institute necessary structural changes. Some describe it as God hearing our cries from heaven. Others describe it as political evolution, or as social evolution. Those labels make a difference, but they are only labels.

Your sacrifices may not bear fruit immediately, but you do matter. Your name may be forgotten, but you have made a difference.

You may lose a battle, you may lose a war. But next time around, during the next war, some of “them” are going to say to themselves, “Remember what they did last time? If we don’t want a repeat of that fiasco, we need to give them what they want this time.”

It’s a generational version of The Parable of the Unjust Judge, who finally granted the woman what she wanted just to be rid of her.

Now some of us need to believe that a once-and-for-all victory can be attained. Others seem to think that our struggle is a perpetual one. I used to be in that first group.

This difference in expectations will always be with us. Sometimes I used to call it idealism vs realism, other times hope vs cynicism. Those can be loaded words. Right now I prefer to avoid evaluation.

It is what it is, as my kids say.

Sometimes we need to celebrate a species of diversity we detest. That’s the nitty-gritty of Yin Yang, of Jesus having flocks we don’t know about.

That Jesus saying, the one about having another flock, one we don’t know about, that other flock is basically any group we despise or feel really, really superior to.

You may know where this is leading. What group of people do you feel justifiably superior to? Yeah, those people. That group is one of Jesus’ many flocks.

Kinda sucks, doesn’t it. Yeah, that whole damned flock, they belong to Jesus, too.

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“…except to manipulate it.”

“It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Billy Graham–American Evangelist (Parade, 1981)

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Wasted Years: Shame, Guilt or Regret?

Word choice.

Choosing between shame (which is exceedingly intense) and guilt (which depending on the “crime” could result in the death penalty) I think regret is often a better choice to describe feelings about ourselves.

Regret can be deep, but not permanent or debilitating.

I am glad I am able to walk. If I was unable to walk I would be so dependant at such a basic level. Imagine if I wasn’t able to get to the refrigerator, or the toilet, without assistance.

But I don’t feel shame, guilt, or even regret about the years I spent in a crib, confused by the world around me, or the hundreds of times I fell on my diaper-covered butt, inching my way around the coffee table. It wasn’t time wasted.

It was time spent learning.

It’s normal to feel regret over “wasted years”, but regret is temporary and not debilitating. You were learning something, and there is such a thing as a learning curve.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off…

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