Part 1 -- The Data, The Problem, and The Thesis
My friend Victor Reppert, over at Dangerous Idea, has been recently engaged in a series of posts on historical analysis of the accuracy of the New Testament; and the thorny topic of Theudas came up again a week or two ago, this time in context of Richard I. Pervo’s thesis that the author of Acts of the Apostles knew about Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and so must have composed Acts sometime substantially after Ant.’s publication.
I am a bit handicapped here in analyzing Dr. Pervo’s thesis, since I don’t have access to a university library; I have only found access to (a very large) part of the relevant chapter in Dating Acts (thanks to Amazon’s Search Inside feature), and no access at all yet to his later Acts: A Commentary (part of Hermeneia’s Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible)--nor do I much fancy buying one or both books merely to assess this one thesis. Hopefully some of our readers will have one or both books at hand, and can provide further information relevant to my critique, in fairness to Dr. Pervo.
(I want to stress that this is also a strong caution to our readers that, for all I know at the moment, Dr. Pervo may have already sufficiently addressed these critiques where I haven’t been able to see him yet. Dating Acts has been out for a few years. The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story was published later, the same year as Dr. P’s commentary on Acts, but a thorough search of its text by Amazon’s tools shows no mention of Theudas or Judas the Galilean at all. A search for Josephus in the same text turns up numerous entries, including Dr. P’s continuing position that Luke borrowed from the later books of the Antiquities; but doesn’t seem to include even brief arguments for why he holds that belief. I can’t tell from this whether he still holds to the Theudas/JudGal theory, or not. Possibly Amazon’s search feature doesn’t include enough of the text of this book. Readers who are slightly less lazy than I am, and/or substantially more familiar with his body of work, are welcome to provide links to papers from Dr. P on this topic, in the comments.)
The basic textual facts for the problem, and for Dr. Pervo’s proposed solution, stand as follows:
In the 20th book of the Antiquities of the Jews, chapter 5 (William Whiston’s translation):
1. 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. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus's government.
2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, 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 showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.
Earlier, in the 18th Book of the Antiquities chapter 1, Josephus wrote about Judas the Galilean
[From Chapter 1] Moreover, Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus's money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of Joazar, who was the son of Beethus, and high priest; so they, being over-pesuaded by Joazar's words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it. Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, 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; as if they could procure them happiness and security for what they possessed, and an assured enjoyment of a still greater good, which was that of the honor and glory they would thereby acquire for magnanimity. They also said that God would not otherwise be assisting to them, than upon their joining with one another in such councils as might be successful, and for their own advantage; and this especially, if they would set about great exploits, and not grow weary in executing the same; so men received what they said with pleasure, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height. […]Such were the consequences of this, that the customs of our fathers were altered, and such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together; for Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic 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 were before unacquainted withal, concerning which I will discourse a little, and this the rather because the infection which spread thence among the younger sort, who were zealous for it, brought the public to destruction. […] But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. And since this immovable resolution of theirs is well known to a great many, I shall speak no further about that matter; nor am I afraid that any thing I have said of them should be disbelieved, but rather fear, that what I have said is beneath the resolution they show when they undergo pain. And it was in Gessius Florus's time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans.
Josephus had also written a bit about Judas the Galilean earlier, in Book 2 (Chapter 8) of “The Jewish War”:
And now Archelaus's part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of [life and] death put into his hands by Caesar. Under his administration it was that a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt, and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own, and was not at all like the rest of those their leaders.
There’s a quick note in passing toward the end of Book 2 of JW, too (Chp 17), connecting JudGal with the taking of the Masada fortress via his son:
In the mean time, one Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean, (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Cyrenius, that after God they were subject to the Romans,) took some of the men of note with him, and retired to Masada, where he broke open king Herod's armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also.
In what we now call the fifth chapter of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, the author (hereafter “Luke” on occasion for convenience) presents the following scene set roughly 30CE (or anyway the same year as the death of Jesus):
[NASV translation] But a certain Pharisee named Gamaliel, teacher of the Law, respected by all the people [i.e. Gamaliel I, son of Simeon, grandson of Hillel, and grandfather of Gamaliel II who would go on after the Jewish War to refashion the Pharisee party into its dominant form], stood up in the Council [i.e. the Sanhedrin, which is debating what to do about Peter and John and their preaching and healing] and gave orders to put the men [i.e. Peter and John] outside for a short time.
And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him--who was slain, and all who were obeying him were dispersed and came to nothing.
“After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away people after him--he too perished, and all those who were obeying him were scattered.
“And so in the present case, I say to you: stay away from these men and let them alone! For if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them--or else you may even found to be fighting against God!”
Relatedly, in the 17th book of Antiquities, ch. 10, Josephus talks about several of many other revolutions preceding Judas the Galilean but after the time of the death of Herod the Great (while his son Archaelus was attempting to secure the throne by Imperial appeal); the heads of only some of which are named by Josephus.
It is worth keeping in mind, too, that while the form Theudas is rare, it is also one of several much more common variants; and indeed can also be used as a more particular substitute for the vastly common Judas! (Much like “Jason”, a purely Greek name, was substituted occasionally for “Jesus/Joshua” by Hellenized Jews as a proper-name option: the sound and/or meaning were close enough to putt in with a multi-lingual pun.)
Dr. Pervo’s thesis is that the order of mention by Gamaliel, first Theudas and then Judas the Galilean, suggests (or, for Dr. P, practically demands) that Luke borrowed this information from Josephus, specifically from Book 20 (written very late, indeed the last book of Antiquities completed before Josephus’ death). The main positive evidence in favor of this thesis (unless Dr. P brings out stronger positive evidence where I haven’t been able to read him yet), is that Josephus happens to mention Judas the Galilean after writing about Theudas the (messianic) “magician”; thus, in a trivially sequential way, first Theudas is mentioned, then Judas the Galilean. Whereas, if Luke was really writing with actual living knowledge of conditions in pre70s Palestine, he would not have put Theudas before JudGal, and certainly would not have put a reference to Theudas at all (much less before JudGal) in the mouth of a character decades prior to the rebellion of Theudas. As Dr. Pervo quips (p.153 of DA), this would be like Winston Churchill making a speech in 1932 exhorting Parliament to recall the rise and fall of Hitler after whom Kaiser Wilhelm rose up and fell.
This is (or was?) Dr. Pervo’s theory for dealing with the problem of the data.
Next time: why salting a pizza before eating is very important