Book review: Judas of Nazareth

by Daniel T. Unterbrink


Yes, Jesus lived, he’s no myth … but he’s not who you think. Daniel Unterbrink is a retired forensic auditor who “turned his analytical prowess” to uncovering the real Jesus.

In this fascinating, controversial study, Daniel equates Jesus with Judas the Galilean (not Judas the betrayer of Jesus), and he equates Paul with Saul the Herodian, both from the writings of Josephus. The Fourth Philosophy that Josephus writes about is what we scholars refer to as the Jesus Movement. The famed Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus’s Antiquities is authentic, but it’s not about Jesus; it was originally about the death of Judas the Galilean. These corrections to our understanding shift parts of the Gospel story back about a decade, and shift other parts forward a couple generations to the time of the war of Jerusalem in 67-73 CE.

Unterbrink leans on the combatant tone of some of Paul’s letters toward the Jerusalem Christians as he builds his theory. He escalates the known friction between Paul and the “Judaizers” (primarily James, the brother of Jesus/Judas), presenting it as deadly antagonism. He notes how the book of James opposes Pauline writings, and suggests that the “enemy of god” in James 4:4 is none other than Paul, who once was a follower of the Jesus Movement (the Fourth Philosophy) but strayed … or was ousted. He sees two distinct churches that share little commonality: the Jewish Jesus movement centered in Jerusalem with James in control, and the Pauline Christ movement among the Gentiles.

So if the Jesus story is founded on Judas the Galilean, where did the gospel story come from? Unterbrink suggests it may have been dreamed up by Paul, who was actually still alive after the war of 70 CE. Paul contributed to (or perhaps himself wrote) the Gospel of Mark, and the other three gospels built upon Paul’s foundation. The evidence? Much of the Jesus story sounds more like Paul than any other historical character. Here’s an interesting twist that comes about when the Bible is read this way: when the crowd calls for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus, they are calling for the release of Judas Barabbas, and selecting Jesus (Paul) to be crucified. Paul sounds a little whiny about the whole thing in his letters, but he does come out on top … thanks in no small part to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE.

The gospels of Matthew and Luke were likewise written by followers of Paul, who reworked the story of Mark’s Gospel to fit their audience. Unterbrink suggests that Luke wrote his gospel with Matthew in hand, and that the contradictions between Matthew and Luke (such as birth narratives and resurrection appearances) merely reflect Luke’s willingness to change the story willy-nilly as needed for his own agenda. This negates the need for a Q document.

Unterbrink relies heavily on a controversial document known as the Slavonic Josephus, which, when first discovered, was thought to be a translation of Josephus from Aramaic, but which few modern scholars any longer consider genuine. Unterbrink recognizes that the book is a Christianized version of Josephus’s Antiquities, dating to the eleventh or twelfth century. Nevertheless, he does find some fascinating and relevant passages in the SJ to further his research.

My thoughts on the whole matter? I have a few difficulties with Unterbrink’s portrayal of Paul and his beliefs. For example, Unterbrink thinks the virgin birth stories in Matthew and Luke reflect Paul’s methodology, but it seems clear to me that Paul never imagined a supernatural birth. And for all the devious, dastardly deeds of both the Saul/Paul movement and the Jesus movement, we somehow wound up with a pretty compassionate set of scripture. I loved studying all the comparisons, but I’m not sure they are more convincing than the similarities to other historic figures uncovered by other scholars. The focus on Judas and Paul as Jesus’ doppelgangers is entertaining, but it seems to me that if we are going to go looking for parallel figures, parts of the Jesus story could just as easily be founded on Jesus, son of Ananus (another figure from Josephus who prophesied against Jerusalem), or the healer Hanina ben Dosa, or any of several pagan gods. The scriptures are a great mystery.

I believe this is a five-star book which repeats itself for emphasis a bit too much. Too scholarly for an easy read, Unterbrink could probably put more trust in his readers to study carefully, and condense the book by about one third. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the read.

Bear & Company, © 2014, 365 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59143-182-4

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