As it happens, we have an excellent witness to events in Judaea and the Jewish diaspora in the first half of the first century AD: Philo of Alexandria (c25 BC-47 AD).
Philo was an old man when he led an embassy from the Jews to the court of Emperor Gaius Caligula. The year was 39-40 AD. Philo clearly, then, lived at precisely the time that "Jesus of Nazareth" supposedly entered the world to a chorus of angels, enthralled the multitudes by performing miracles, and got himself crucified.
Philo was also in the right place to give testimony of a messianic contender. A Jewish aristocrat and leader of the large Jewish community of Alexandria, we know that Philo spent time in Jerusalem (On Providence) where he had intimate connections with the royal house of Judaea. His brother, Alexander the "alabarch" (chief tax official), was one of the richest men in the east, in charge of collecting levies on imports into Roman Egypt. Alexander's great wealth financed the silver and gold sheathing which adorned the doors of the Temple (Josephus, War 5.205). Alexander also loaned a fortune to Herod Agrippa I (Antiquities 18).
One of Alexander's sons, and Philo's nephews, Marcus, was married to Berenice, daughter of Herod Agrippa, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, 39-40. After the exile of Herod Antipas – villain of the Jesus saga – he ruled as King of the Jews, 41-44 AD. Another nephew was the "apostate" Julius Alexander Tiberius, Prefect of Egypt and also Procurator of Judaea itself (46-48 AD).
Much as Josephus would, a half century later, Philo wrote extensive apologetics on the Jewish religion and commentaries on contemporary politics. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words are extant. Philo offers commentary on all the major characters of the Pentateuch and, as we might expect, mentions Moses more than a thousand times.
Yet Philo says not a word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. In all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to his alleged contemporary "Jesus Christ", the godman who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising demons, raising the dead and causing earthquake and darkness at his death.
With Philo's close connection to the house of Herod, one might reasonably expect that the miraculous escape from a royal prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40), or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads of troops (Acts 12.2,7) might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing of Agrippa "vexing certain of the church" or killing "James brother of John" with the sword (Acts 12.1,2).
Strange, but only if we believe Jesus and his merry men existed and that they established the church. If we recognize that the Christian fable was still at an early stage of development when Philo was pondering the relationship of god and man, there is nothing strange here at all.
Copyright © 2006 by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no material herein is sold for profit.
An atheist website is 'truth'?