“Jewish Fables,” Josephus, and Exorcism-by-Nostril (!!!)

Titus 1:13-14

13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;
14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

Many Christians have read this passage and believed it, but never known what these “Jewish fables” are to which Paul referred.  I thought it might help believers to understand not only this passage, but also to understand more fully the kinds of errors which concerned Paul, by looking at an example from the Jewish historian Josephus in his work, “The Antiquities of the Jews” (8.2.5).

This passage was written about thirty years after Paul wrote Titus, and gives an example of the absurd stories which the Jews were spreading at the time, perhaps to try to hold onto some power / influence in the world of the Romans.  Note that the second half, the part about extraordinary supernatural abilities, which is NOT in Scripture at all, is actually less about Solomon and more about “the Jews have this supernatural ability still today.”

Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients; insomuch that he was no way inferior to the Egyptians, who are said to have been beyond all men in understanding; nay, indeed, it is evident that their sagacity was very much inferior to that of the king’s.

He also excelled and distinguished himself in wisdom above those who were most eminent among the Hebrews at that time for shrewdness; those I mean were Ethan, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol.

He also composed books of odes and songs a thousand and five, of parables and similitudes three thousand; for he spake a parable upon every sort of tree, from the hyssop to the cedar; and in like manner also about beasts, about all sorts of living creatures, whether upon the earth, or in the seas, or in the air; for he was not unacquainted with any of their natures, nor omitted inquiries about them, but described them all like a philosopher, and demonstrated his exquisite knowledge of their several properties.

God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this:

He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.

And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man;  and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly: for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon’s abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason, I say, it is that we have proceeded to speak so largely of these matters.

This section is particularly illustrative of the problem against which Paul warned, in that the first part of the passage (the first three paragraphs here) is largely in line with Biblical statements.  Then, however, Josephus diverges into something that is not at all in the Bible (and also happens to be ridiculous).  By combining a recounting of Biblical teaching with absurdity, Josephus indirectly implies that the nonsense about the exorcism has equal authority to the truth in the first three paragraphs.

This creates at least three significant problems.  First, there is a risk that those who believe the Scriptures, but don’t know them well, could “give heed to Jewish fables that turn from the truth” and actually believe the lie.  Second, for those who aren’t deceived into believing the false fable of the exorcism, the truth of the first half of the account is called into question.  Third, it creates a false view of authority, in that the “miracle” of the exorcism is made the basis by which the whole passage can be known to be true.

When you combine nonsense with Scripture, there is a tripartite danger — A) deceiving the believers and leading them astray, B) reinforcing the skepticism of the unbelieving, and C) undermining a true understanding of Scriptural authority.

That is something to consider for those today who make claims of supernatural activity and power, whether in the present or in the past, which are not firmly grounded in Scripture.  Anyone who claims to believe the Bible believes in a God whose power is not limited to that which we call “natural.”  But we do not need to manufacture “miracles” which are not consistent with Scripture to “validate” our belief.

The kind of fables of which Paul warned were not limited to the Jews.  There are still claims running around today, about Divine works of/through men, which have no Biblical basis.  If a story recounts spectacular power, that does not mean it is of God.  It may be no more than nostril-based exorcism — a silly fable which, more often than not, seeks to draw attention / credit to the alleged worker of the miracle, or to the person recounting the story, or both.


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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4 Responses to “Jewish Fables,” Josephus, and Exorcism-by-Nostril (!!!)

  1. Michael Gleason says:

    One modern equivalent would be the wackier side of charismaticism.

  2. David says:

    It seems also that another modern version of these “Fables” is the Stuff™ passed around on social media.
    * No, NASA did not “find” Joshua’s long day.
    * No, Mars is not going to appear in the sky as big as the full moon thus fulfilling the prophecy that the moon would turn to blood.
    * No, to a thousand other unsubstantiated ideas that float around in the name of “Truth”!
    It is always a good idea to check something out (either by verifying through research yourself or by asking someone you know who has learning in that field). And don’t just pass it along hoping that it would “build up someone’s faith” when they read it. As the above post shows, faith isn’t built up by lies. Faith comes by hearing and that through the Word of God.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Ha! I didn’t even think of that stuff, but it certainly fits, doesn’t it? Thanks for the insight.

      Here’s another Jewish fable — that God miraculously superintended the translation of the Septuagint, so that 72 Hebrew scholars (6 from each tribe) translated it perfectly into the Greek, each coming up with exactly the same translation, demonstrating that it was a divine translation.

      The Scriptures make no mention of any such thing, and it is obviously just a fable. It was apparently intended to give the Septuagint a greater authority than the actual Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.

      Yes, that does bring to mind a fable/teaching running around today.

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