Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera

Tiberius Pantera's tombstone in Bad Kreuznach

Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (/pænˈtɛrə/; c. 22 BC – AD 40) was a Roman soldier whose tombstone was found in Bingerbrück, Germany, in 1859. A historical connection from this soldier to Jesus has long been hypothesized by numerous scholars, based on the claim of the ancient Greek philosopher Celsus, who, according to Christian writer Origen in his Contra Celsum ("Against Celsus") (Greek Κατὰ Κέλσου, Kata Kelsou; Latin Contra Celsum), was the author of a work entitled The True Word (Greek Λόγος Ἀληθής, Logos Alēthēs).

Celsus' work was lost, but in Origen's account of it Jesus was depicted as the result of an affair between his mother Mary and a Roman soldier. He said she was "convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Pantera".[1] Tiberius Pantera could have been serving in the region at the time of Jesus's conception.[1] Both the ancient Talmud and medieval Jewish writings and sayings reinforced this notion, referring "Yeshu ben Pantera", which translates to "Jesus, son of Pantera". The hypothesis is considered unlikely by mainstream scholars given that there is little other evidence to support the Pantera paternity outside of the Greek and Jewish texts.[2][3] Historically, the name Pantera is not unusual and was in use among Roman soldiers.[2][4]

The tombstone in GermanyEdit

The 19th-century discoveryEdit

The Roman tombstones in Bingerbrück, Germany, as illustrated when published. Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera's is on the left

In October 1859, during the construction of a railroad in Bingerbrück in Germany, tombstones for nine Roman soldiers were accidentally discovered.[2] One of the tombstones was that of Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera and is presently kept in the Römerhalle museum in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.[5]

The inscription (CIL XIII 7514) on the tombstone of Abdes Pantera reads:[2][6][7]

Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera
Sidonia ann(orum) LXII
stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs(ignifer?)
coh(orte) I sagittariorum
h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera
from Sidon, aged 62 years
served 40 years, former standard bearer(?)
of the first cohort of archers
lies here

Analysis of the inscriptionEdit

The name Pantera is Greek, although it appears in Latin in the inscription. It was perhaps his last name, and means panther.[2] The names Tiberius Julius are acquired names and were probably given to him in recognition of serving in the Roman army as he obtained Roman citizenship.[2] The name Abdes means "servant of God" (Latinate form of Aramaic Ebed) and suggests that Pantera had a Semitic or even Jewish background.[2] Pantera was from Sidonia, which is identified with Sidon in Phoenicia, and joined the Cohors I Sagittariorum (first cohort of archers).[2]

Pantera is not an unusual name, and its use goes back at least to the 2nd century.[4] Prior to the end of the 19th century, at various times in history scholars had hypothesized that the name Pantera was an uncommon or even a fabricated name, but in 1891 French archeologist C. S. Clermont-Ganneau showed that it was a name that was in use in Iudaea by other people and Adolf Deissmann later showed with certainty that it was a common name at the time, and that it was especially common among Roman soldiers.[2][6][8]

At that time, Roman army enlistments were for 25 years and Pantera served 40 years in the army until his death at 62.[2] The reign of emperor Tiberius was between 14 and 37 and the Cohors I Sagittariorum was stationed in Judaea and then in Bingen.[citation needed] Pantera was probably the standard bearer (signifer) of his cohort.[8]

Historical context for the name PanteraEdit

2nd-century usage by CelsusEdit

In the 2nd century, Celsus, a Greek philosopher, wrote that Jesus's father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. The views of Celsus drew responses from Origen who considered it a fabricated story. Celsus' claim is only known from Origen's reply. Origen writes:

Let us return, however, to the words put into the mouth of the Jew, where "the mother of Jesus" is described as having been "turned out by the carpenter who was betrothed to her, as she had been convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Panthera".[9][10]

Raymond E. Brown states that the story of Panthera is a fanciful explanation of the birth of Jesus which includes very little historical evidence.[11][12][13]

Celsus' wide ranging criticism of Christianity included the assertions that Christians had forsaken the laws of their fathers, that their minds had been held captive by Jesus and that the teachings of Jesus included nothing new and were simply a repetition of the sayings of the Greek philosophers.[14][15] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan state that given the antagonism of Celsus towards Christianity, his suggestion of the Roman parentage of Jesus might derive from the memory of Roman military operations suppressing a revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth around the time of Jesus' birth. The "common legionary name" Panthera could have arisen from a satirical connection between "Panther" and the Greek word "Parthenos" meaning virgin.[16]

Jewish usage in the Middle AgesEdit

The story that Jesus was the son of a man named Pantera is referred to in the Talmud, in which Jesus is widely understood to be the figure referred to as "Ben Stada":

It is taught that Rabbi Eliezer said to the Wise, "Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut in his flesh?" They said to him, "He was a fool, and they do not bring evidence from a fool." Ben Stada is Ben Pantera. Rabbi Hisda said, "The husband was Stada, the lover was Pantera." The husband was "actually" Pappos ben Judah, the mother was Stada. The mother was Miriam "Mary" the dresser of women's hair. As we say in Pumbeditha, "She has been false to "satath da" her husband." (b. Shabbat 104b)[17]

Peter Schäfer explains this passage as a commentary designed to clarify the multiple names used to refer to Jesus, concluding with the explanation that he was the son of his mother's lover "Pantera", but was known as "son of Stada", because this name was given to his mother, being "an epithet which derives from the Hebrew/Aramaic root sat.ah/sete' ('to deviate from the right path, to go astray, to be unfaithful'). In other words, his mother Miriam was also called 'Stada' because she was a sotah, a woman suspected, or rather convicted, of adultery."[18] A few of the references explicitly name Jesus ("Yeshu") as the "son of Pandera": these explicit connections are found in the Tosefta, the Qohelet Rabbah, and the Jerusalem Talmud, but not in the Babylonian Talmud.[18]

The book Toledot Yeshu, which dates to the Middle Ages and appeared in Aramaic as well as Hebrew as an anti-Christian satirical chronicle of Jesus, also refers to the name Pantera, or Pandera.[19][20][21] The book accuses Jesus of illegitimate birth as the son of Pandera, and of heretical and at times violent activities along with his followers during his ministry.[19][21]

Throughout the centuries, both Christian and Jewish scholars have generally only paid minor attention to the Toledot Yeshu.[22] Robert E. Van Voorst states that the literary origins of Toledot Yeshu cannot be traced with any certainty, and given that it is unlikely to go before the 4th century, it is far too late to include authentic remembrances of Jesus.[23] The nature of the Toledot Yeshu as a parody of the Christian gospels is manifested by the claim that Apostle Peter pretended to be Christian so he could separate them from the Jews and its portrayal of Judas Iscariot as a hero who posed as a disciple of Jesus in order to stop the Christians.[24][25]

Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans state that the Toledot Yeshu consists primarily of fictitious anti-Christian stories based on the ongoing friction with the Jews, and that it offers no value to historical research on Jesus.[19] The Blackwell Companion to Jesus states that the Toledot Yeshu has no historical facts as such, and was perhaps created as a tool for warding off conversions to Christianity.[26]

However the Jerusalem Talmud is far older, compiled in 200 CE (about the time of Celsus) and likely finished about 500 CE.

Ethiopian Ecclesiastical LiteratureEdit

A soldier by the name of Pantos/Pantera also appears twice in Ethiopian church documents. In the First Book of Ethiopian Maccabees he is listed as one of three brothers who resists the Seleucid invasion of Judea[27]. Within the text itself he is cited as receiving his name from the act of strangling panthers with his bare hands. This name and personage also appears in the text of the Ethiopian Synaxarion (Tahisas 25), where he is remembered along with his brothers in the canon of Ethiopian saints. Neither text makes any clear identification of this figure with the legendary accounts of the paternal ancestry of Christ.

Hypothesis concerning a connection to JesusEdit

A connection between the two Panteras has been hypothesized by James Tabor. Tabor's theory hinges on the assumption that Celsus' information about Jesus' paternity was correct, and a soldier with this name, living at the right period, might have been Jesus' father. Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera's career would place him in Judea as a young man around the time of Jesus' conception.[1]

The Christian theologian Maurice Casey rejected Tabor's hypothesis and states that Tabor has presented no evidence.[3][clarification needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 64-72
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The panther: posthumous poems By James Whitehead, Michael Burns 2009 ISBN 0-913785-12-1 pages 15-17
  3. ^ a b Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of His Life and Teaching by Maurice Casey 2010 ISBN 0-567-64517-7 pages 153-154
  4. ^ a b The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew-Luke, Volume 1 by Craig A. Evans 2003 ISBN 0-7814-3868-3, page 146
  5. ^ Jesus and his world: an archaeological and cultural dictionary by John J. Rousseau, Rami Arav 1995 ISBN 978-0-8006-2903-8, page 225
  6. ^ a b Light From the Ancient East Or The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco Roman World by Adolf Deissmann 2003 ISBN 0-7661-7406-9, pages 73-74
  7. ^ The Roman army, 31 BC-AD 337: a sourcebook by J. B. Campbell 1994 ISBN 0-415-07173-9, page 37
  8. ^ a b Tabor, James D. (2006). The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. Simon & Schuster. p. 69. ISBN 0-7432-8723-1.
  9. ^ Contra Celsum by Origen, Henry Chadwick 1980 ISBN 0-521-29576-9 page 32
  10. ^ Patrick, John The Apology of Origen in Reply to Celsus 2009 ISBN 1-110-13388-X, pages 22–24
  11. ^ Mary in the New Testament by Raymond Edward Brown, et al. 1978 ISBN 0-8091-2168-9 page 262
  12. ^ Origen, Contra Celsum I.32. Given in J.Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337, page 133 (new edition revised by W. H. C. Frend, SPCK, 1987). ISBN 0-281-04268-3
  13. ^ Also cited [1] and [2]
  14. ^ The Ante-nicene Fathers by Alexander Roberts 2007 ISBN 1-60206-476-8 page 682
  15. ^ Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman age by Antonía Tripolitis 2001 ISBN 0-8028-4913-X page 100
  16. ^ Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan (2007). The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth. HarperOne. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-06-143070-1.
  17. ^ Robert E. van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, .B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI., 2000, p.109
  18. ^ a b Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007, p.15-24
  19. ^ a b c Studying the historical Jesus: evaluations of the state of current research by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 90-04-11142-5 page 450
  20. ^ Princeton University
  21. ^ a b William Horbury, The Depiction of Judeo-Christians in the Toledot Yeshu in "The image of the Judaeo-Christians in ancient Jewish and Christian literature" edited by Doris Lambers-Petry 2003 ISBN 3-16-148094-5 pages 280-285
  22. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence WmB Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 127
  23. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence WmB Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pp. 122 and 127
  24. ^ The Jews in European history by Saul Friedländer 1994 ISBN 0-87820-212-9 page 31
  25. ^ The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener 2009 ISBN 0-8028-6292-6 page 417
  26. ^ Michael J. Cook "Jewish Perspectives on Jesus" Chapter 14 in The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4443-2794-6
  27. ^ Curtin, D. P. (2019-01-08). The First Book of Ethiopian Maccabees: With additional commentary. ISBN 9788829592333.

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