Paul, the Philippians and….Josephus?

I recently gave a lecture on Paul’s ecclesiology in Philippians. One aspect I have focused on is Paul’s use of militarist language, how he engenders a particular esprit de corps among them. One analogy that I used comes from Josephus, where he describes how John of Giscala and Simon Bar Giora had to set aside their rivalry to protect Jerusalem from Titus.

So those of different factions cried out one to another, that they acted entirely as in concert with their enemies, where as they ought…to lay aside their enmities one against another, and to unite together against the Romans…So on both sides they laid aside their hatred and their peculiar quarrels, and formed themselves into one body (BJ 5.278-9).

How perfect this fits the context of the Philippians and Paul’s appeal that they set aside rivalries and quarrels and take up common cause. I also found it interesting that, twice, Josephus refers to a military group as “one body” (once for the Roman army, once here). When Josephus describes the fluid unity of the Roman army in battle, his description, again, paints a perfect picture of the kind of cooperation and cohesiveness Paul longs to see in his Philippian church.

…when they come to a battle, the whole army is but one body, so well coupled together are their ranks, so sudden their turnings about, so sharp their hearing as to what orders are given them, so quick their sight of the ensigns (i.e., standards), and so nimble are their hands when they set to work (BJ 3.104-5).

I have found a number of other interesting and useful parallels, but I am hoping to turn my Philippians lectures into a book on the living theology of Philippians. So I will restrain from giving it all away! Nevertheless, I have found Josephus’ descriptions so evocative and useful for teaching about ancient models of unity and cooperation!



One thought on “Paul, the Philippians and….Josephus?

  1. Hi Nijay

    This image of a body goes back to Day 5 of Creation, schools of fish and flocks of birds. They move as one.

    As this theme is developed throughout the Bible it is most certainly military. The number 5 is military. The fifth feast in Lev. 23 is Trumpets – the army summoned.

    Also, the repeated narrative structure puts plunder and plagues at this point, most notably in the judgment of Egypt.

    In the first century, the army Paul was building was the plunder for Jesus. For the Jews who hardened their hearts like Pharaoh (Rom. 9) the Christians, and eventually the Roman armies, were the plagues.

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