Note: Part 1 of this series can be found here. It introduces the data, the problem, and the solution proposed (among a few other people) by Dr. Richard Pervo, most notably in his 2006 edition of Dating Acts.
Recapping the final paragraph from last time...
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.
Part 2 -- Salting the Pizza Beforehand
“Extrication of Gamaliel (or Luke) from this quandary requires the ingenuity of... well, a Gamaliel!” This is Dr. Pervo’s stated opinion on p.155 of DA; but it is interesting that he immediately goes on to say that “The most common recourse is quite prosaic.”
Really? A “quite prosaic” recourse that Gamaliel was thinking of an earlier Theudas, wouldn’t seem to require “the ingenuity of a Gamaliel”! (Otherwise, it wouldn’t be quite prosaic.)
One hardly needs any ingenuity to defend it either; although one might need a bit of ingenuity to notice that Dr. Pervo begs the question rather severely when he insists, against this proposition, that (p.156) “The sole historical account of an insurrectionist known as Theudas is Josephus”.
The short answer to this is, “No.”
The long answer to this is: Noooooooooooooooooooo, we have two records of a ‘Theudas’ leading a messianic rebellion in Galilee. One text is Antiquities, one text is Acts, and the details of each text, when added together, indicate one rebellion came before 6CE while the other came roughly 40 years later.
Those are the textual details, which are quite directly straightforward as they stand in the sources, and which require only one simple inference to harmonize together. To insist that one of these texts is the only “sole historical account”, is sheerly salting the pizza in favor of Dr. Pervo’s thesis by excluding the very possibility of the Acts account being correct. Dr. Pervo has to legitimately argue that Acts is incorrect here (especially for his theory about loose dependence on Josephus to work), not tacitly (yet forcefully!) exclude its correctness from the outset.
F.F. Bruce’s defense of the two-Theudas theory, quoted by Dr. Pervo (p.156), is dismissed by Dr. P as being partly question-begging, too. This would not be a defense against his own question-begging in any case; but Dr. P’s claim about Dr. B’s procedure is also just not true. Dr. B proceeds to the Theudas problem having already established that Luke is elsewhere at least as careful a historian as Josephus (or even moreso sometimes). Dr. Pervo doesn’t deny Luke’s generally competent historical accuracy, or even deny just how pickily accurate Luke often is. But he wants to explain Luke’s accuracy, such as it is, being due entirely to Luke’s facility at using details very opaquely from other sources, such as for example Josephus. This would still count as being a good second-hand historian (and would, in fact, be tantamount to a conservative account of Luke’s accuracy on any dating earlier than Josephus--even by the explicit terms of GosLuke’s own prologue, where the author explains he researched other sources to try to get the best information!) Which of course is why, if this is the rebel Theudas of the 40s CE, it’s very strange that Luke would anachronistically slot him before JudGal, and have someone before Theudas’ rebellion make a comment on it.
The failure, if only one Theudas is in view, requires some kind of explanation precisely because Luke is usually careful about things of this sort. Dr. Pervo thinks the (uncharacteristic!) mess-up is evidence that Luke rather badly misread Josephus. This all proceeds on the hypothesis of a single-Theudas, and so a hypothetical error by the author of Acts. But Dr. P is starting off assuming the error as a settled fact; not as a hypothesis to be abductively tested.
I’ll be getting back later to just how peculiar this theoretical explanation is. My point for now, is that ‘Luke is a good historian elsewhere’ is not question-begging to the issue of ‘Is Luke being a good historian here’ (unless one simply draws an invalid deductive conclusion thereby--which Dr. Bruce and other careful commentators, such as Colin Hemer do not do.) Whereas ‘Josephus is the sole historical account we have of a rebellion by someone named Theudas’ is question-begging to that issue, because it tacitly requires that Luke’s anecdote here must not be even a historical account (much less a good one).
This is very much a case of the pot calling the kettle ‘marijuana’. Dr. Pervo’s analysis starts off with a flagrantly question-begging assertion that Acts is in error here, while accusing Dr. Bruce of doing the same kind of question-begging in reverse--except that he clearly isn’t.
This is the first weakness to Dr. Pervo’s approach to this particular thesis in Dating Acts. But it won’t be his last.
Next time: why a magical imagination is very important...