Why did Jospehus and Paul refuse to circumcise?

J. R. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In AD 66-67 Josephus was commissioned to encourage the Galilean revolutionary "hot heads" to lay down their weapons against Rome (Life 29). In his autobiography (Life 113), Josephus says that he stopped some Galilean Jewsfrom forcibly circumcising two non-Jewish nobles who had fled to him for refuge from Trachonitis. This episode is reminiscent of Paul's refusal of certain "false brethren" who, in AD 48/ 51, wanted Titus forcibly circumcised at Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-5). This article explores the influence that pro-Jewish sentiment and an incipient Jewish nationalism might have exercised on the early Christians regarding the place of the "works of the law". It marks Josephus as a singular figure in first-century Judaism who, like Paul, resisted the tide of Jewish culture in refusing the imposition of circumcision either upon Gentile asylum seekers or proselytes. It enables us to reconsider what might have been animating the "false brothers" at Jerusalem, as well as the rhetorical strategy Paul employs in combating the Jerusalem and Antioch agitators in Galatians 1-2. However, ultimately the situations faced by Paul and Josephus were different.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-158
Number of pages22
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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