Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity, Pt. 3: The strange witness of Epiphanius

     For at Christ’s arrival the rulers in succession from Judah came to an end. Until his time the rulers were anointed priests, but after his birth in Bethlehem of Judea the order ended and changed with Alexander, a ruler of priestly and kingly stock. After Alexander this heritage from the time of Salina—also known as Alexandra—died out under King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus.      (Epiphanius, Panarion 29.3.3, Williams edition.)

Scholars have ever found this passage inexplicable. Epiphanius wrote his Panarion about 375 CE, and it is entirely bizarre that the bishop of Salamis in Cyprus would date Jesus to the time of Alexander Janneus. Epiphanius writes that after Jesus’ “birth in Bethlehem of Judea the order ended and changed with Alexander.” Clearly, Alexander Janneus (r. 103–76 BCE) is intended, for that name is followed in the citation by Janneus’ successor Selina (“Salome”), “also known as Alexandra” (r. 76–67 BCE), and both precede the era of Herod and Augustus. Furthermore, Janneus was indeed the last anointed priest to rule. His successor and wife, Salome Alexandra appointed Hyrcanus II as High Priest, and henceforth the High Priesthood and the crown were separate—as the Pharisees had always wished.

[ASIDE: Bishop Epiphanius must, of course, have been quite familiar with the canonical dating of Jesus to the time of the Herods—first Herod the Great, and then his son Herod Antipas. That information had been codified centuries before. Witness, for example, the following much earlier witnesses:
– Justin Martyr (fl. c. 150 CE) knows the synoptic gospels (but not GJn), including their information regarding Herod (e.g. Dial. with Trypho chp. CIII); — Tatian (fl. 160-75 CE) writes his Diatessaron, already based upon the four canonical gospels, and including all the canonical passages regarding Herod, Pilate, etc.; — Irenaeus of Lyon (late II CE) in his Adversus Haereses refers to and cites all four canonical gospels, including Herod, Pilate, Caiphas, and Annas (e.g. here, XIX.7, etc.);— Tertullian (c. 200 CE), writes Contra Marcion, which contains myriad passages from the Gospel of Luke, including mentions of Herod and Pilate (e.g. here, XLII).]

Thus, Epiphanius was certainly aware of the standard chronology of Jesus in the time of Herod. However, in the above citation, he must have ‘let slip’ an alternate chronology with which he was also familiar. That alternate chronology of Jesus living in the time of King Janneus was provably extant, for we have it also in the contemporary compilation of the Talmud (as we shall see in the next post). Epiphanius knew both Hebrew and Aramaic, and thus his familiarity with such an alternate chronology is eminently possible. That Epiphanius’ above citation conforms precisely with the rabbinical chronology (and also with that of Ibn Daud, as we learned in the preceding post) proves that the alternate chronology of an ‘earlier Jesus’ was not only known to Jewish tradition but also had reached into Christendom. (FYI: G.R.S. Mead’s old discussion of Epiphanius’ colossal ‘misdating’ is here.)

Those who are familiar with Epiphanius’ writings will not be surprised that he would let slip a few sentences regarding an alternate, non-compatible chronology of Jesus. Though learned and erudite, Epiphanius had a penchant for sloppiness and was prone, in my opinion, to invent when he found it convenient. Readers of my first book will recall that the bishop could not even remember the name of his protagonist in one long (and no doubt fanciful) account—he inexplicably calls him ‘Ellel’ in the first half of the story but ‘Judas’ in the second half (see The Myth of Nazareth, pp. 278 ff). In this case, Epiphanius gives the game away when he admits, “I guess he was called that” [i.e. Judas]. As I wrote in a footnote:

This indicates that the church father did not bother to look back a page or two to see what the boy’s name was (“Ellel” is last mentioned at 30.7.1). Such unconcern is characteristic of a man writing either far too quickly, too much, or who feels that no one is even going to read what he is writing. (The Myth of Nazareth, p. 281)

I also suspect that Epiphanius was a little too devoted to wine and often wrote when he was less than sober. It’s clear that he did not review, revise, or edit his prolix writings—and probably didn’t care enough to do so.

In any case, we can be grateful that the church father let slip the few sentences cited above, for they attest to the existence of an astonishing alternate chronology for Jesus the Nazarene. We can be sure that Epiphanius did not invent that alternate chronology—after all, it contradicts the Christian canonical dating (this is the criterion of embarrassment), it conforms perfectly to Jewish records, and it also aligns with what the medieval writer Ibn Daud asserts—as we saw in the preceding post. As a result, we must take Epiphanius’ remarkable chronological oopsie as yet a further clue to a most revealing redating of Jesus.

NEXT: Jesus the Nazarene in Jewish writings

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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