Sunday, 26 August 2018

In Acts, did Luke incorrectly date Theudas? Had he misread Josephus?

Here is a hotly contested issue in some circles: the supposed clash between Luke and Josephus on the dating of Theudas. Let me explain.

Some sceptics and scholars claim that biblical author Luke had read a book called Antiquities by Jewish historian Josephus, and borrowed his material, in order to invent fake scenes in the book of Acts, only to get the real details wrong. Supposing this was true, then this would undermine Luke as a historian.  I don’t find that Luke had read Josephus at all. But what’s the case put forward by some sceptics, and how does it rate?

Well, take this for their case. Acts 5, where Jesus’ Galilean apostles are hauled before the Jewish authorities where Gamaliel speaks. This is set in the 30s of the first century. Luke’s story sees Gamaliel smearing the apostles by slyly comparing them with two troublesome characters, Judas the Galilean and Theudas. Here’s the thing. Historian Josephus too has something to say about characters of the same names. Both writers do so in a short passage of their books. Both have the names Theudas and Judas in the same order. Coincidence? Did Luke rip his material off Josephus? Or vice versa?

Taking material from other writers in general wouldn’t be a problem. After all, Luke openly declares up front that he researches what others have written before him (Luke 1:1-4). But that doesn’t mean he had read Josephus. Two issues:

1) dating: if Luke took material from the published text of Josephus’ Antiquities (published c. 93AD), then Luke wrote Acts after 92AD. For those such as myself who date Acts to around 62AD, my position would be seriously in doubt. It wouldn’t mean that the author Luke didn’t do what he says in the book, such as meeting Paul and James in the 50s of the first century. But it means extra work for the historian in working out just how much after 93AD, and that becomes another contest.

2) confidence: if Luke and Josephus contradict each other, which one should we trust? Is there a smoking gun that suggests that Luke was indeed copying off Josephus and making errors? Is the Judas and Theudas issue such a smoking gun? It has to be said that Luke’s details are not a perfect match for Josephus’ details, whether he had read Josephus or not. Why? Accident or design? Could both of them be right in some way or other? Are we even reading the evidence the right way?

See how a can of worms can be opened? Those are the issues. Many fair-minded people err towards doubting Luke. But there are also people on two 'sides' who are heavily invested in wanting the Bible to be either right or wrong, making it easy to take sides. This blog is not about taking pre-scripted sides. It’s about getting to the truth of things, which sometimes takes us on unexpected journeys and down little known alleyways. 

As an aside, lots of factors can be taken into account in telling the date when Luke wrote Acts. Likewise, there are a lot of factors we take account of to say whether Luke was a good historian, such as his remarkable command of details of people and places (data often not found in Josephus).

This post, however, is just about this one test case: the mentions of Judas the Galilean and Theudas (we don’t know where he was from). And, as is my wont, I will do in depth evidence analysis, as you find less of that elsewhere on this subject. Here is what Luke wrote. In this scene, set in the 30s of the first century, Jewish leader Gamaliel unexpectedly equates Peter and the apostles with the reputations of trouble-makers Judas the Galilean and Theudas:

‘Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…”

Then [Gamaliel] addressed the Sanhedrin:

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.

Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.

After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

So… if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail”’ (Acts 5:29, 35-39)

Notice that Luke says that Judas the G came on the scene after Theudas did, and regards both their efforts as failures. I will take the case of ‘Judas the Galilean’ first for reasons that will become clear. Our task starts by working out whether Luke took his material about Judas the G from Josephus.

Judas the Galilean, 6AD: Josephus was not Luke's source

Here is the passage in Luke and one in Josephus which supposedly are one part of the smoking gun of Luke’s dependence on the other. It’s a story set long before Josephus was born and very possibly before Luke was born. Therefore, both were dependent on unidentified sources for their information about Judas the Galilean. The sheer lack of a smoking gun here should be immediately obvious in the differences between the passages:

Josephus’ Antiquities Book 20.5.1: Then came Tiberius Alexander, as successor to Fadus… the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain: I mean of that Judas, who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews; as we have shewed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon: whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.

Luke’s Acts 5:37: ‘… Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the registration and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.’

The emphasis in bold is mine to draw your attention to differences. The problems are multiple, if we seek to make a case that Luke was merely going from Book 20. It’s difficult to argue that what Josephus wrote changed into what Luke wrote:

  • Why would the death of Judas’s sons (Josephus) change to being about the death of Judas himself (in Luke)? That’s not what borrowing looks like.
  • Why does Luke give the impression that Judas was a failure and his influence ended sharply during the era of Cyrenius? Whereas Josephus spreads Judas’ influence, through his sons, into the much later era of Fadus.
  • What is Luke’s source for Judas being killed? Not Josephus, who never even indicates that Judas ever got caught!
  • What is Luke’s source for the people being scattered? Not Josephus.
  • Why would “caused the people” (in Josephus) become merely “led a band“ (in Luke)?
    • That’s a big shift down, from “the people” to just “a band”. We know that Josephus had an agenda to exaggerate this, which has apparently had no influence on Luke’s more modest report.
  • Why would “account of the estates of the Jews” (Josephus) become vaguely “the registration” (Luke)?
    • A ‘registration’ could be any of a number of things, a census, a tax, an oath to Caesar, whatever. Luke leaves it a loose end.

Luke seems to have no interest in Josephus’ content, and a simple explanation for that would be that it had never been before his eyes. It scarcely bears the faintest resemblance to Josephus. So why leap to the conclusion that Luke’s material here is from Josephus’ Antiquities Book 20? And where did Luke get his unique material from?

And note how Luke gets chronology right here. If he was borrowing off Antiquities 20, then it would be Luke showing himself to be smart. It would then be notable that Luke: intelligently spotted that the story of Judas was old enough for Gamaliel to speak of it; and intelligently left Judas’ sons out, as they were in the future of Gamaliel. I will talk about the significance of that when I come to Theudas.

So, I would conclude that sceptics don’t have a case for Luke borrowing here, but can the sceptics’ case be salvaged?

Josephus directs the reader to his “foregoing book”, which is Antiquities Book 18. So perhaps we should look here for Luke’s source material. But if we try that, the sceptics’ own problems only multiply. The arguments I will set out here are as follows:

  • Luke still has the above unique details about the outcome of the story, which are again proven not to be not from Josephus.
  • Luke seems oblivious to key information that Josephus reveals: that Judas the G had a Pharisee ally.
  • Josephus positions Judas the G as a violent extremist and radically distances himself from Judas as a matter of absolute necessity. Whereas Luke innocently allows comparison between Jesus’ Galilean apostles and Judas the Galilean. and lets it go without comment. It is inconceivable that Luke would hook the church up to such a dangerous comparison if he knew it was so reputation-harming, as Luke would know if he had actually read Josephus’ highly polarised and toxic account of Judas. It indicates that Luke had a different relatively harmless source about Judas.
  • I will also explain in a footnote why scholars recognise Josephus’ account to be untrustworthy, an issue that undermines any case for giving too much weight to Josephus’ reliability in this whole passage, affecting our confidence in his coverage of Judas and Theudas.

Now, Luke’s heroes, the apostles, were commoners from backwater Galilee. So was this Judas. Before we see what Josephus wrote about him in Book 18, for ease of reference, here is Luke’s Acts 5:37 again:

“Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the registration and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”

It’s unadorned simplicity. As said, it mainly invites an unflattering comparison between the Galilean apostles and this rebel Galilean Judas, but Luke doesn’t seem to regard it as overly problematic to include this equation. He doesn’t even bother to issue a rebuttal. He just lets it go. It’s no big deal. It’s just a mean comparison delivered by Gamaliel’s silver tongue. Did Luke rip any of that brief material off Josephus’ Book 18? Surely not. The case for this is just as weak as it was for Josephus’ Book 20. Why say so?

Well, what a much more alarming picture of Judas the G, and different picture overall, we get when we read Josephus’ Antiquities Book 18:

Judas the Galilean…

Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite; of a city whose name was Gamala; who, taking with him Saddouk, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt: who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery: and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty... All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men; and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree. One violent war came upon us after another: and we lost our friends, which used to alleviate our pains: there were also very great robberies, and murders of our principal men... Nay the sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down by the enemies’ fire... Which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together. For Judas and Sadducus, who excited a fourth philosophick sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we before were unacquainted withal... These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaick notions… (emphasis added)

This is ridiculously over the top from Josephus, and I’ll break down why that is. But firstly, let’s check Luke again:

Acts 5:37: ‘… Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the registration and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.’

Again, it’s difficult to argue that what Josephus wrote changed into what Luke wrote, Here’s what I mean:

  • Why would “the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree” (in Josephus) become merely “led a band“ (in Luke)? This is a radically different version of events.
  • How can Luke produce merely ‘revolt’ from “One violent war came upon us after another… very great robberies, and murders of our principal men… the very temple of God was burnt down... Judas and Sadducus, who excited a fourth philosophick sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present…” It’s nonsense to suppose that so much toxicity could be so glossed over as to produce Luke’s tame text: “led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”
  • Why would the argument that Judas the G was a precursor to the war with Rome, indirectly the cause that ‘the very temple of God was burnt down’ (in Josephus) become an ephemeral event that was a ‘fail’ (in Luke)?

What else is worthy of note? Well…

1. Luke is oblivious to key information that Josephus is forced to reveal:

  • Luke does not have Sadduc in his story of Judas the G. But if Luke had read Antiquities Book 18, then there is no obvious reason why he wouldn’t have written something like “Judas the Galilean and Sadduc appeared”. Book 18 is therefore even less likely to be Luke’s source.
  • Although you would never know it from Luke, Josephus mentions that Judas the G and Sadduc spread a new ‘philosophy’, and that the dispute was to a degree about paying a tax. It all reads like they had different sources.

2. Luke has unique details about the outcome of the story

Luke has important details that Josephus doesn’t, and vice versa. Whereas Luke mentions that Judas perished and his army was scattered, you would never know that from Josephus, and could easily imagine from reading Josephus that Judas never got caught.

To Luke, Judas the G was nothing more than a here-today gone-tomorrow revolutionary of no lasting significance, who perished, his army scattered. Luke didn’t think that Gamaliel’s smear was a problematic thing to include, because he didn’t know that Judas the G could become such a problematic figure of such lasting influence. But in Josephus’ hands, writing decades after the Jewish War, Judas the G becomes the start of the end for Judea, the co-founder of a sinister philosophy that sowed the seeds of the Jewish War. So, if Judas was not such a bogeyman when Luke was writing, then how could Judas become so toxic when Josephus writes?

The reason why Luke did not know that Judas the G was someone to radically distance yourself from was because Josephus hadn’t made that up yet, and Luke finished writing his book before Josephus started rewriting history.

3. Distancing yourselves from a hate figure

So, Josephus makes Judas the G (6AD) a scapegoat, a man of lasting influence, the co-founder of anti-Roman sentiment with devastating consequences, a primary cause of Judea’s catastrophic war with Rome (66-70AD), who co-founded a new ‘philosophy’ fermenting the long struggle (albeit 60 years before the Jewish War finally started!).

If Luke had read this toxic passage in Josephus Book 18, he would have an interest in distancing his heroes from any such comparison too, not have the apostles all tarred with the same brush. It is incomprehensible that Luke would blithely include (or even invent) a scene unnecessarily and guilelessly equating his Christian heroes with the founder of a devastating trend of violence. It could damage his heroes, something the church would want to avoid.

If there’s one thing about Luke, he doesn’t come across as a madman who stirs up trouble for believers. Luke characteristically smooths troubled waters and portrays Christians as people whom the Romans can trust. Luke seems to have no inkling either that Judas the G was a precursor to the Jewish War.

Summary regarding Judas the Galilean

In summary, we have seen how it is that Judas was not such a bogeyman when Luke was writing, but is painted as very toxic when Josephus writes.

Luke wouldn’t have got from Josephus Book 20 that Judas the G was killed, that he was a ‘fail’ of no present concern, that he had merely a band and they were scattered. Josephus Books 18 and 20 have failed to communicate to Luke that Judas the G had a Pharisee ally and a lasting and major influence through his sons and a philosophy that infected the nation (!), a cause of the war, and that Judas was a figure to radically distance yourself from right up to the time of Josephus writing in the 90s. 

A reasonable conclusion is that when Luke was writing, Judas’ reputation was not as toxic as nuclear fallout – because Josephus had not yet made it so. Luke was writing without knowledge of Josephus’ work. It’s the same Judas the G, but radically different versions that can hardly be the same story from one source.

Now, if Luke and Josephus had different sources for Judas the Galilean, and Luke did not get his material from Josephus, then it drastically reduces the likelihood that Luke got Theudas from Josephus. Indeed, the next question – Theudas - becomes a moot point. The sceptics’ case about Luke borrowing the two stories together collapses. Remember, the charge is that Luke got information about both Judas and Theudas from a single section of Antiquities 20 and muddled the order of the two. But as we have established that surely one of these stories was not taken from Antiquities anyway, then the charge falls away. But let’s look at Theudas anyway.

Theudas: Josephus was not Luke's source

Luke has a story which he sets prior to 6AD. Josephus has a story set in the 40s of the first century. Both feature a trouble-maker called Theudas. These are the only rebel Theudases known to history. Neither of the two accounts are corroborated by other sources. Luke would be relating a story from before he was born. Josephus in his 50s would be recalling events from when he was about 7 years old, supplemented from any other sources he may have had.  

Why do sceptics think that Luke ripped these stories off Josephus? Well they hang the whole theory off the following:

  • the fact that both writers mention the same two rebel names, Judas and Theudas – coincidence?
  • that both writers mention the names in the same order, first Theudas, then Judas – coincidence?

Assuming an awful lot off that, the sceptical claim is that they are the same story, and Luke found Josephus telling the stories, the story of Theudas first and the more ancient story of Judas the G next. Sceptics claim that this left Luke’s memory confused, and Luke, keeping the names in the same order, erred into imagining that Josephus’ Theudas appeared before Judas the G, pre-6AD.

The argument I will make here is as follows: Luke and Josephus are telling two completely different stories about different troublemakers. The coincidence of the name is the only mystery to solve. I am not taking a new position, but am analysing the evidence in more depth than you find in general.

Chronology in Luke’s Acts

Luke’s Acts reports Gamaliel in the 30s of the first century saying this:

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.

After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the registration [6AD] and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”’ (Acts 5:29, 35-37)

To clarify the supposed smoking gun: on the one hand Josephus has effectively dated his Theudas in the 40s of the first century during Claudius reign, after Judas the Galilean (and in effect after Luke’s Gamaliel scene). But Luke effectively dates his Theudas before his Gamaliel scene, and before Judas, before 6AD. This would be embarrassing if Luke reports someone in the 30s looking back to events that had not occurred yet, and wouldn’t until the 40s. The doubters’ and sceptics’ argument is that Luke did not keep correct the chronology here. Rather he simply kept them in the same order in which he read them in Josephus, but forgot a crucial detail from Josephus: that chronologically it’s the other way round, and Theudas (40s AD) came after Judas (6AD) chronologically. If Luke’s only source was Josephus, then Josephus is the one to trust and Luke “got them in the wrong order” is the argument.

Names and chronology

But it’s misleading to pick out from Josephus two names as if Josephus was just talking about two. Whereas, Luke names only two people in Gamaliel’s speech, Josephus (In Antiquities Book 20.5.1-2:) is actually giving us a swirling myriad of names of which these are just two. If Luke had a different two from the swirl, would we still say it was a strange coincidence? Just in 20:5:1-2, there are these names in this order: the procurator Fadus, Theudas, the procurator Tiberius Alexander, his son Alexander, Queen Helena, the sons of Judas of Galilee (James and Simon), Judas, Herod King of Chalcis, Joseph the son of Camydus, Ananias the son of Nebedus, Cumanus, Herod brother of Agrippa dying in the reign of Claudius Caesar (by far the most mighty name in this list), Aristobulus, Bernicianus, Hyrcanus, Bernice, Agrippa junior. Claudius Caesar is mentioned many times before and after this. Of course, our attention is centred on the two Jewish rebels in the list, Theudas and Judas the G. (I’ll show the passage a bit further down.)

But what is generally overlooked is that Luke’s story does not have any other name from that list, only Theudas and Judas the G. Again, it’s not a clear borrowing.

The sceptics’ theory, that Luke has got his chronology wrong by carelessly borrowing two out of that heap of names, also depends on Luke overlooking all of that context which generally hovers around the 40s of the first century, including overlooking the biggest name in the list, Claudius Caesar, which is an unlikely assumption for at least three reasons:

  • given that Claudius’ name appears in Josephus’ Book 20 much more frequently, both before and after the two mentions of Theudas’ name.
  • given that Luke more than once names Claudius in Acts without getting the chronology wrong there, so we know he could be sensitive to this sort of detail.

And given a third reason: that is, how coherent is the case of Luke muddling the details, given that the general context here is the 40s? If he had read Josephus, then it would be notable that Luke smartly and successfully moves Judas the G out correctly and into the pre-Gamaliel era, taking the mention of a ‘registration’ under Cyrenius as a signal to do so. That adjustment would be commendable given that, in Josephus, Judas is not in chronological sequence in relation to the whole passage (not merely in relation to Theudas). This unchronological moment occurs in Josephus simply because Josephus is really talking about Judas’ sons etc., making Judas’ name appear after Theudas (but centred around the 40s era). If Luke had read Josephus, we would have to congratulate Luke on spotting that and shipping Judas the G out and into the correct era.

In Luke had read Josephus and picked up that little dating clue, would the entire 40s context of this part of Book 20 with its more numerous dating clues be erased from Luke’s mind when it comes to Theudas? Would he really happen to recall only a fairly random thing: that Josephus tells the story about Theudas before the one about Judas? Did a dog eat Luke’s homework? The sceptics' case that Luke took Theudas and Judas as a piece from Book 20 is not compelling. It is decidedly iffy, making Luke smart when they want him to be, and stupid when they want him to be, even when dealing with the same passage. This is not methodologically sound.

In any case, given that Josephus’ Theudas and Judas stories are embedded in a huge chunk of data set in the 40s of the first century in Claudius’ reign, if a ‘stupid’ Luke (supposing he read Josephus) was going to make an error, it would be to leave Judas the G untouched, accidentally assuming it to belong in the 40s. And he would find something else for Gamaliel to talk about. But he doesn’t – Luke correctly places Judas the G earlier, which means (supposing he borrowed from Josephus) he knew how to rearrange the dating to put Judas the G in an earlier era. It’s questionable to try to make Luke smart and stupid at the same time. To argue such would need better evidence than afforded by these passages.

As an aside, if Luke were writing before Josephus, or perhaps even afterwards, it is realistic to think that the events of the 40s were contemporary with Luke’s life just as they were for Josephus. If that were the case, Luke would be even more unlikely to overlook Josephus’ words “while Fadus was procurator of Judea”, or much of the rest of it, which makes this contemporary to Luke himself. From that, it is even more difficult to see how Luke would then place a 40s Theudas story before the time of Gamaliel.

So arguing for a chronological mistake is a stretch to start with. But let’s commence evidence analysis of the stories.

Same name, different stories?

The whole sceptical theory hangs off this: both authors mention the same rebel names, Judas and Theudas. On the second name there is a problem only if they both mean the same Theudas. If it’s the same man, then it means one of the authors has got their chronology wrong about this Theudas, and lost brownie points as a historian. It doesn’t follow that one copied from the other – which seems most unlikely, as we will see further.

What if they are not the same story? That is indeed how it seems. Here are the passages on the Theudases. Luke’s Acts 5:36 has these succint details, again spoken by Gamaliel in the 30s of the first century:

“Some time ago Theudas appeared, saying he was something, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.”

Josephus’ Antiquities 20:5.1, has these details, set in the 40s. I’ve emphasised passages in bold which illustrate key differences:

Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan. For he told them he was a prophet: and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. And many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt: but sent a troop of horsemen out against them. Who falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem”.

(NB, it says that Theudas was taken to be a magician and a prophet, not as you sometimes find claimed a ‘messiah’.)

Once again, it’s difficult to argue that what Josephus wrote changed into what Luke wrote. The first one is a plain contradiction that is so fatal that the further points are secondary:

  • Why would “slew many of them, and took many of them alive” become “all his followers were dispersed”? Slew/captured is the opposite of ‘all were dispersed’.
  • Why would a story that Theudas was beheaded and the head taken to Jerusalem become merely that he was killed?
    • And look at the two halves of the above. Slew/captured cannot reasonably become ‘all were dispersed’ and therefore we have to doubt that Josephus was the source for the first half either, Luke’s mere ‘killed’.
  • Why would Josephus specifying that it was the Romans who killed his Theudas become the anonymous killers found in Luke?
  • Why would the attention-grabbing “magician… prophet” merely become a vague “something”?
    • According to Luke, Theudas was “saying he was something” (λέγων εἶναί τινα ἑαυτόν). Luke seems indifferent or unsure what that was, and this is not a problem if he was writing about events before 6AD, probably before he was born.  
  • Why would people carrying their effects (in Josephus) become ‘men rallied’ (in Luke)?
  • Why would “a great part of the people” be reduced to the more specific “about four hundred men”?
    • The Christian Thinktank website helpfully points out that ‘The following paragraph in Josephus recounts a massacre of over 20,000 people, so a band of only 400 would probably not be 'newsworthy' enough for Josephus to even mention.’ It makes sense that Josephus was juxtaposing two major episodes. Luke was speaking from a different source, and it seems about a more minor story.
If Luke had read Josephus, he seems uninterested in Josephus’ content. It’s difficult to see that Josephus was Luke’s source. It’s difficult to say that they are even telling the same story.

Being different stories, as seems to be the case, makes sense of the chronological difference (where Josephus has his Theudas in the era of the 40s of the first century, long after Judas the G; whereas Luke has his Theudas in the era before 6AD, before his Gamaliel scene, and before Judas the G).

If the name Theudas were not there, nobody would be imagining that they could be the same story. It’s only because the name Theudas occurs in both stories that anyone would hold onto a belief that they are the same story, or that anyone would try to explain away a string of significant differences.

As an aside, if these were two gospels, form critics would have a field day, if they were told that these were two versions of the same story, they would probably say that Acts’ simpler story was written first, and over time, the stories have been elaborated, and embellishments added, leading up to the more lavish detail written up later by Josephus, resulting in obvious contradictions. That’s just an aside. I don’t believe that they are the same story. Hence the contradictions!

In short, Josephus has a story without external corroboration, and Luke has a different story without external corroboration. Josephus has a character called Theudas without external corroboration, and Luke has a different character called Theudas without external corroboration. Playing one off against the other doesn’t really work. The match of the name (coupled with the fact that it accompanies a story of Judas the G) does not carry enough weight to overcome the significant and numerous differences and problems. It’s very difficult to make these two stories literally the same story from one source. Stories of rebellions can easily have common elements, but these two stories distinctly lack them.

The name

If they are not the same story, then the real question is not whether one was copied from the other. The real question is just how did the same name, Theudas, come to be attached to both stories?

Here are some of the suggested possibilities that one finds to explain this:

1) We reflect on the fact that the man’s name ‘Theudas’ was a cognomen of a large group of names including Theodotus, Matthias and Jonathan, a popular name because of the influence of the Maccabean warrior king Jonathan (161-43BC). If Luke wrote about 62AD as I take the case to be, then Theudas is a name he could easily know, just as Josephus would, and could substitute it as a contemporary cognomen for a Jewish name.

So, what we might imagine is that there was, say, some ‘Jonathan’ or ‘Matthias’, who could fit the bill of Luke’s description of Theudas. A weakness of this argument is that we don’t have another history to corroborate Luke on whether there was a rebel who fits in this group of names in the right era. (See Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity, 199-200.) But then we don’t have external corroboration for Josephus’ Theudas either (unless you count Luke!). To be fair, Josephus says that in the era effectively before 6AD (in the days of Herod) there were was a huge number of rebellions led by people he doesn’t name. Luke may be filling in one of those blanks. This is the passage in Josephus Antiquities Book 17.10.4:

‘Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults: because a great number put themselves into a warlike posture, either out of hopes of gain to themselves, or out of enmity to the Jews. In particular two thousand of Herod’s old soldiers, who had been already disbanded, got together in Judea itself, and fought against the King’s troops: although Achiabus, Herod’s first cousin, opposed them. But as he was driven out of the plains into the mountainous parts, by the military skill of those men, he kept himself in the fastnesses that were there, and saved what he could.’

And Josephus reports that multiple Simons and multiple Judases led rebellions in the era Luke is referring to, so the possibility of more than one Theudas can’t rationally be dismissed out of hand. Acts would be the only thing in the historical record that gives us this Theudas, but at least we have circumstantial corroboration in terms of an era where he fits perfectly.

2) Here we will come to the next paragraph in the same book, Antiquities 17. Someone may suppose theat the original name in Acts has got scrambled somewhere along the line in the copying of Acts. In Acts, Gamaliel was originally telling the story of two Galileans, both called Judas, to shame the apostles. The explanation would be a hypothetical manuscript error in the copying of the Bible. This is argued as follows:

Acts 5:37 is corrupted: ‘Theudas’ should actually read ‘Judas”. Why is this probable?
Josephus mentions an insurrection of a Judas, son of Hezekiah, and another one by Judas the Galilean.

These two were ‘real’ revolts’, which upset the Roman authorities quite a bit. In contrast, Theudas [in Josephus] was not a revolutionary, he was a charismatic prophet.

In Gamaliel’s speech in Acts, it makes sense if he refers to violent revolts, not to Jewish prophets.

An overzealous scribe could have easily switched Theudas for Judah: it would look like a (scribal) error for Gamaliel to mention Judas twice…’

(Source: a reader’s comment on You find the same point in a number of commentators but I choose this version for its succinctness.)

To evidence this, this is Josephus on the story of the other Judas, son of Hezekiah in Antiquities 17.10.5:

‘There was also Judas, the son of that Ezekias who had been head of the robbers... This Judas having gotten together a multitude of men of a profligate character about Sepphoris in Galilee, made an assault upon the palace [there]; and seized upon all the weapons that were laid up in it, and with them armed every one of those that were with him; and carried away what money was left there: and he became terrible to all men, by tearing and rending those that came near him...’

This is an interesting argument, but the stories again bear little resemblance. And a key weakness is that we have no textual variant in the manuscript traditions to the effect of ‘Judas’ changing to ‘Theudas’ in Acts 5.

3) Or it’s a manuscript error in Josephus’ Book 20 (the name occurs only in this passage in Book 20, and only twice). It’s easier to imagine a later Christian scribe clumsily reconciling Book 20 with Acts 5 than it is to overcome all of the problems inherent in trying to make these two stories literally the same story from one source. But we have so little by way of manuscripts for Josephus that we can’t expect to be able to trace hypothetical variants in Antiquities like this.

4) Or… either Luke or Josephus simply got the name itself wrong in their story.

5) Or… if you think you can overcome the seemingly insurmountable problems, Luke ripped it off from Josephus.

Take your pick. The truth is that we shall probably never know which, if any, of these is the correct explanation for why Luke and Josephus use the same name, Theudas. That’s a bit unsatisfactory but loose ends like this are the bugbear of the historian’s trade. There are almost always loose ends when we write the history of anything. 

A control: what does Luke do where we can trace his use of source material? 

It would be amiss not to mention that an important control is available to this study. We can actually test Luke's behaviour where the relationship between Luke and prior written sources is irrefutably present. We can then compare this with evidence of how Luke handles material that he has in common with Josephus. And the difference could not be more stark: Luke is almost slavish in relying on Q material and Mark's Gospel by comparison; whereas when Luke and Josephus have common interest in an episode, there is barely more than the odd word occurring in both, and hardly the sort of words showing evidence of copying one from the other. This is demonstrated adequately elsewhere (link),and I may add more later. No claim that Luke copied from Josephus is robust unless it can overcome this hurdle.

As a final note, I’d like to quote Emil Schurer (from back in 1876!): “Either Luke had not read Josephus, or he had forgotten all about what he had read.” (Schurer, “Lucas und Josephus,” Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie 19, 582-83).

Footnote: Why Josephus is untrustworthy on Judas the Galilean

Josephus was an accomplished spin doctor. He sneakily shifts the blame for the War (66-70AD) away from Jerusalem aristocrats such as himself (the likely suspects) to convenient scapegoats from the past (6AD). Of course, it’s far-fetched for Josephus to shift the blame back 60 years, but he had to keep the noose away from his own neck somehow. The Romans would have suspected his potential role in the outbreak of the war.

So, the blame conveniently falls on long ago commoners from far away backwater Galilee, and in particular this Judas the Galilean, cleansing Josephus and his chums of any trace of blame. Pure spin.

Here again is part of it in Josephus’ Antiquities 18:

Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us… which we were before unacquainted withal…

See how Josephus distances himself from his scapegoat, by saying that people like himself had never previously heard of this new philosophy that caused Jerusalem’s downfall. But…

Josephus can’t be trusted in these accounts. From one book to another, he rewrites this history to suit himself, contradicting himself. In another earlier work of his, called War, Josephus similarly tried to get away with blackening the reputation of Judas the Galilean alone as chief trouble-maker. Writing subsequently in Antiquities, he has to subtly change his story. First, this from War 2:4:1-2 (no one suggests that this was Luke’s source):

a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas,

prevailed with his countrymen to revolt

This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own,

and was not at all like the rest…

For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. . . . [and Judas started a fourth]

So that was the earliest of Josephus’ versions of this story. But later, writing in Antiquities 18, Josephus changes his story. Although he manages to keep his main trouble-maker as a backwater Galilean – distant from the Jerusalem elite – something has pressed Josephus to concede some key details that mean trouble was closer to home than he first wanted to admit. This is serious. Josephus is rewriting his own spin. Something has dragged this out of Josephus. Perhaps the earlier version just didn’t wash with people.

In his revised version in Antiquities 18, Josephus still tries hard to distance himself from his scapegoat. But now it turns out that the trouble wasn’t just down to Judas. The story changes from the former “This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect [philosophy] of his own” to this new version: “Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us”. Two ringleaders, then.

It gets worse, as said. The earlier version gave the impression that the root of all the troubles was far away from the Jerusalem elite, a Galilean. Now it turns out that it’s not so clean-cut. More than just backwater hicks of the distant past had been calling for the land of Judea to be freed from the power of Rome, for now it turns out that this co-conspirator Sadduc was actually a Pharisee: “taking with him Saddouk, a Pharisee”. Yes, a Pharisee is now in the frame too – part of the upper part of society. So, you can’t just pass this off merely as a backwater revolt. Something has forced this out of Josephus.

In Antiquities 18, the story has changed from the safe “Judas was not at all like the rest” to the less safe “These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaick notions”. Sounds like the rebels weren’t quite so different from the upper part of society after all. And that reveals a further issue, because Josephus had claimed in War that Judas the G invented a philosophy previously unknown to the great and the good. Now it turns out that a Pharisee was a part of it from early on. So it wasn’t quite so unknown.

It’s also curious how Josephus switches locations with which he wants to chiefly identify Judas: Galilee? Gamala?

When you change your story, your motivations come into question, and indeed your version of events.

Another thing. Josephus in general can go skimpy on his details when it suits his agenda. That is characteristic of him. But given how crucial Josephus makes this story out to be, it’s a bit funny that Josephus never gets round to saying where Judas was actually active, what his revolt actually was meant to look like, what was the military response and by whom was it undertaken (Herod? the Romans?), or whether Judas was ever caught. Strange for a story that Josephus places great weight on. It looks like a card trick. Josephus wants us convinced that he’s dealt us the cards fairly, but he is keeping the rest of the deck hidden. It suggests Judas didn’t do as much as he claimed.

The point of all this is to say that one cannot just assume that we can trust Josephus over Luke in telling these stories. Luke’s basic material, which is not used to explain the history of a century, is simple to accept. Josephus, however, makes out that this is crucial history and then becomes strangely hazy and inconsistent on the details.


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  1. Firstly it is not JUST the evidence of the plagiarism - or otherwise - from Josephus, it is the patent falsification of the record of Paul's post-conversion actions.

    Second is your statement that the interrogation of the Disciples happened in the 30's. You I see no evidence in the text to support this claim other than the claim that Gamaliel was present, something for which there is zero evidence.

    Next Judas the Galilean was not found after the battle - so how is it known he died?

    An early date for Luke is insupportable because of the accounts of martyrdoms that either never happened or happened long after 64 CE

    Strangely your certainty contrasts with the certainty of those such as Ehrman and Crossan that Luke is late - both assert, with far more authority than yourself, Markean Priority and Mark is certainly round the time of 70CE. You might be proposing imaginary L or Ur-Luke sources but the only evidence for these is convenience.

    All I can see in this post is special pleading based on your desire to "prove" Luke's originality

    Steampunk Gentleman

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I've addressed issues around the dating of Luke-Acts in other posts in my blog - please do take a look.

      On your first paragraph, what are you referring to as 'patent falsification', please? I may have dealt with it elsewhere.

      On your last point above, which testimony are you referring to, that says that Judas was not found after the battle, so that I can deal directly?

      Many thanks.