Friday, December 10, 2010

Mulholland's Judas Gambit

Out there somewhere there’s a blog by a certain non-entity named Kevin Mulholland that is claiming “a New and Plausible Hypothesis” for the historical Jesus. Mulholland professes to have apostasized from Christianity, but as we know from many examples, that’s not exactly a recommendation for sound thinking processes. It isn’t here, either.

A reader sent this blog entry to my attention, and it begins with the usual sort of error we find from those who appeal to Remsberg. But the main point is not so much that as that out non-entity was “flabbergasted” by supposed parallels he found between Jesus, and the story of Judas the Galileean which is described in some detail by Josephus.

Unfortunately, what we end up with is another in a long line of theorists with “parallelomania”. Inevitably such theorists either 1) get their comparisons wrong; 2) massage terms and ideas down to least common denominators to achieve a parallel; 3) use commonplaces as parallels. Just check and see how it was done this time with these claimed parallels – all three errors are here, though 1 and 3 are predominant. I haven't done depth research on these claims in some cases, only pointed out where Mulholland has failed to prove his case, but in other cases, no depth checking was needed.

Judas was a preacher from Galilee who was "the most eloquent man among the Jews, and the most celebrated interpreter of the Jewish laws".

The learned men "frequented his lectures every day".

Um…yes, but wait. There’s no sign of Jesus as “eloquent”; indeed, as has been observed by the classicist Kennedy, Jesus made no use of the usual forms of rhetoric that great speakers of his day used. Rather, his technique was essentially, “God says,” like Billy Graham. Is Graham an eloquent speaker? Not really, no. Nor was Jesus a “celebrated interpreter” who attracted the attention of “learned men” – the learned men of the day despised him and eventually fomented his execution.

Mulholland also neglects to mention in his parallels that Judas was not alone – there was an equally honored teacher named Matthias with him. This is not mentioned even though the selections from Josephus are quoted which mention both of them.

King Herod the Great had previously erected a golden eagle at the entrance to the Great Temple. Judas incited a group of men to overturn and destroy the golden eagle (as a graven image was considered blasphemous).

Yes, and…what? Is this supposed to be taken as a parallel to Jesus’ acts in the Temple? It isn’t. The only parallel here is, simply, some acting out in the Temple – a very general parallel, one of the sort we might expect to find with any devoted Jew who considered the Temple apparatus corrupt (and Jesus could hardly have been the only one who did). In this case, though, it was a matter of removing a pagan symbol from the Temple area – something any pious Jew would want to do very much. That wasn’t what Jesus’ Temple cleansing was all about. His complaints were directed to the corrupt Temple apparatus itself.

Josephus also notes that Judas and Matthias did this in order to get the rewards of piety that would come with it, and become famous, which doesn’t match Jesus’ motivations. Finally, they did this because it appeared that Herod was on his way out of this vale called life and they figured it was an opportune time. There’s no such concept attached to Jesus.

The King’s captain brought a "great band of soldiers" to stop the insurrection. While many fled, Judas did not move, deciding to face Herod personally.

Presumably this is supposed to be like Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane. The problem is that Jesus was NOT leading an insurrection, and his arrest was not made at the time of his acting out in the Temple, either. The only parallel is being arrested – and it’s a fair bet that when a larger group was involved, police procedure was essentially the same in all cases: Send a lot of soldiers.

Not moving? Not a big deal either. To stand your ground was a way to show that you were honorable, and not a coward. In a society where honor was valued, this would not be an unusual reaction to confrontation. Josephus even indicates that Judas and Matthias thought it would be “ignominious” to run away, so it was clearly an honor issue. And of course, Paul didn’t run away from those who threatened him, either. It’s just the way an honorable person acted back then.

In order to justify himself, Herod brought Judas before the principal men among the Jews, and made them assemble in the theater.

Well, yes – this again was just normal legal procedure for an offense of this magnitude. The offense was against the establishment, and the establishment would want to be there to deliver the punishment.

All of this occurred just before Passover.

That’s not clear at all, actually. Mulholland quotes from two large portions of Josephus’ Antiquities, Book 17, and while Judas’ story is related in Chapter 6, Passover is mentioned in Chapter 9, and at that time, while some seditious people lamented Judas (and another teacher), the actual event of Judas pulling down the eagle occurred at an unspecified time before that, with a number of events in between, including Herod’s death.

Information on the exact chronology is difficult to find, not in the least because Josephus himself tends to be vague, from our point of view. From what I can find offhand, there may have been as much as a month between the acts of Judas and Matthias and the death of Herod; an eclipse mentioned by Josephus seems to indicate this, though there is still much discussion over the exact chronology. Either way, “just before” needs to be justified, not just asserted, if it is wanted as a parallel.

The high priest did not attend, and was replaced by Herod. He did not attend because of a dream he had in which he spoke to his wife.

Is this supposed to be a parallel to Pilate? It isn’t, because Pilate did attend proceedings in spite of his wife’s dream (not his own).

Herod had Judas executed.

True. But he had him burned, from what can be gathered; Matthias is said to be burned specifically, along with his unnamed companions, presumably Judas being one of them. And Herod executed a lot of people.

The night of the execution there was an eclipse of the moon.

Yes, and what? Jesus was executed during the day, and there is nothing to suggest that the darkness was attributed to an eclipse specifically.

Herod at the time was on his deathbed. He summoned his sister, and tried to get her to execute one member out of every family in his kingdom so that there would be mourning upon his death. (His sister never did this).

What’s the parallel supposed to be here? None is apparent.

A great band of followers mourned Judas' death, and began a large insurrection.

I don’t see a parallel here. After someone dies, we expect mourning. That’s the usual order of things. Jesus’ followers did not start an insurrection.

Mulholland declares that these parallels are “just too incredible to be coincidence,” but it is clear that they are far more dependent on imagination than on actual and meaningful parallels.

In close, a point of disappointment for Mulholland, who thinks he has something “new” here:

Look up “Daniel T. Unterbrink”.


  1. You're missing the point of Kevin's essay -- it was not simply that another person existed for whom many of the Jesus stories were paralleled.... but that the contemporaneous historical accounts of this Judas the Galileean dwarf comparable accounts of Jesus, so that one ought to suppose that if anyone even more significant than this Judas actually existed (or did anything of note) similar accounts would abound, instead of having only been generated decades later....

  2. I haven't missed anything of the sort...but even if I had, what you say is immaterial. Jesus gets just as much press as we would expect from someone whom others like Tacitus would regard as a backwards Jewish preacher in a land of superstitious fools (as the Jews were regarded). He never led a rebellion, which Rome would consider a lot more "newsworthy" from their perspective.

    Comparing Jesus to a warmonger like Judas is a mistake. He is better compared to figures like Gamaliel, or Hanina ben dosa...and neither of those gets a word of press from the gatekeepers of history of that day.

    Kevin is a misinformed amateur who needs to take some classes in Biblical studies and historiography before he opens his mouth again.