Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera
(0400) Text: Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera |Sidonia ann(orum) LXII | stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs | coh(orte) I sagittariorum | h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
Translation: Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera from Sidon, aged 62 years served 40 years, former soldier of cohors I Sagittariorum lies here.
Commentary: The only inscription in the database with a purported connection to Jesus himself. Several anti-Christian writers claimed that a certain soldier named “Pantera” was the biological father of Jesus:
- Best known is the account of Celsus, which does not survive, but is quoted by Origen: “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.” (Contra Celsum 1.69, quoting Celsus’ The True Word)
- The Tosefta (a supplement to the Mishnah, see Chullin 2:22-24; cf. b. Avodah Zarah 27b; b. Shabbat 104b) claims that the late-first century Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus describes the teachings of Yeshu ben Pantera on the streets of Sepphoris. This is further developed in the Toledot Yeshu, likely composed in the 6th century CE.
- Later Christian texts refer to Pantera (e.g., Eusebius Ecl. Proph. 3.10). Two categories are worth noting. First, those claiming Pantera was the name of Jesus’ grandfather, such as Epiphanius (Panarion 78) and John of Damascus (great-grandfather; Exposition of Orthodox Faith 4.14). There is a Joseph son of Pentheros attested in CIJ 1211 from Jerusalem. The second category posits Pantera’s/Pantos’s presence in Judaea under the Seleucids, roughly a century before Jesus’ birth: First Book of Ethiopian Maccabees (mid-4th century) and the Ethiopian Synaxarion (Tahisas 25).
The most common explanation is that “Panthera” is a satirical play on the Greek word parthenos – at once discrediting the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth and playing on words.
What basis is there to the idea that Pantera was in Palestine at the time of Jesus’ conception?
- Pantera hails from Sidon a Syrian city near Galilee and Batanaea – a region that the Gospels depict Jesus going to (e.g., Mark 7:31).
- cohors I sagittariorum is attested in Judaea around 90 CE (§208), well after Pantera’s death. It is not attested in Judaea/Syria Palaestina before or after that single diploma. Several of these archers’ tombstones dating to the Claudian-Neronian period have been found in Bingen, Germany, including the inscription in question. These inscriptions commonly bear names from the East (Tentea, Ex Oriente, 63). It is thus unlikely that he could have fathered Jesus after he became a soldier.
- Abdes is commonly asserted to be a Latin transliteration of the Aramaic ebed (servant of God). Though this is far from certain, it would point to a Semitic – perhaps even Jewish – background for Pantera.
- Depending on how one dates Jesus conception, it is possible – even likely – that Pantera was not a soldier at the time of Jesus’ conception. He served 40 years, but presumably recieved his citizenship (and thus adopted the name Tiberius as part of his tria nomina) after 25 under Tiberius, which would date the beginning of his military service 9 BCE-12 CE and thus his birth to 31-10 BCE. Though it is commonly asserted that Pantera lived 22 BCE-40 CE, there is – as far as I can tell – no evidence for asserting this so definitively. Indeed, this confident assertion seems concocted to create greater probability of Pantera fathering Jesus.
Provenience: Bingium, Germania (Bingerbrück, Germany) 31-52 CE
Bibliography: Bibliography is extensive. CIL 3.7514; Ovidiu Țentea, Ex Oriente ad Danubium: The Syrian Units on the Danube Frontier of the Roman Empire (2nd ed; National History Museum of Romania: The Centre for Roman Military Studies 6; Bucharest: Mega, 2012), 60-63; Thierry Murica, “Yeshua Ben Panthera: l’origine du nom. Status quaestionis et nouvelles investigations,” Judaïsme ancien 2 (2014) 157-207.