Flavius Josephus, born 37 C.E., died after 93 C.E., is the most well know Jewish historian. He was a Pharisee, born Joseph ben Matthias who served as a commander in Galilee in the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. His Jewish Antiquities, written about 93 C.E., describes the history of the Jews from the Creation onward with a particularly full account of the Maccabees and the dynasty of Herod.
Reincarnation runs through Josephus’ works like salt through a salt shaker. He talks of rebirth in such a matter-of-fact way that one must assume that it was an accepted way of thinking which was so common at the time that it did not merit any further explanation. Many historians believe that Jesus’ discussions with the disciples involving rebirth are much the same, in that there was no expounding of the doctrine of reincarnation because it was so commonly understood in that day. I’m referring to discussions like this one…
Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” And He warned them to tell no one about Him. (Mark 8:27-29)
Now, wouldn’t this have been a tremendous opportunity for Jesus to explain to His disciples that people are NOT reborn and that many folks are way off-course in their way of thinking? He didn’t do that though. Instead, (though 6 days later – after the Mt. of Transfiguration experience) He goes on to teach them what “rising from the dead” means, and He tells them that Elijah had come (as John the Baptist) and men did to him whatever they wanted, just as it was written (Mark 9:10-13). Jesus’ exact words to the disciples about this as they are recorded in Matthew 11 are:
“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.”
Basically, Jesus was telling the disciples that He Himself wasn’t Elijah but that John was! Jesus brought this up in the context of Peter’s revelation that Jesus is “the Christ” because Malachi prophesied that Elijah must come as the Messiah’s FORERUNNER. This is kind-of a big deal, because if John was not Elijah, then Jesus was not the Christ!
But didn’t John tell the priests and Levites that he wasn’t Elijah? He did. That is because John was no longer Elijah, but John. Jesus, of course, later clarified what was REALLY going on with all of this so that His disciples could understand that Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah and the Messiah HAD BEEN FULFILLED.
This is what the Bible says about all of this, anyway…