JRP vs Pervo vs Luke vs Josephus vs Theudas and Judas the Galilean (3 of 7)

Note: Part 2 of this series can be found here. It discusses how Dr. Richard Pervo, in his 2006 edition of Dating Acts, begins his argument for Lukan dependence on Josephus, in regard to the 'Theudas' reference in Acts 5, by hugely begging the question in favor of his own hypothesis.

Part 3 -- A Magical Imagination

Dr. Pervo retorts against Dr. Bruce’s second point, that Theudas is an unusual name. I consider this his strongest critique of Dr. B (so far as presented in DA on this topic); but Dr. P neglects to mention (as Dr. Bruce himself most likely remembered) that it is an unusual form of a more common set of names for which it might be substituted for purposes of better identification--one such name being Judas, not incidentally. Ironically, we do know of at least one Judas (son of Ezekias) leading a rebellion prior to Judas the Galilean--thanks to Josephus!

This leads to Dr. Bruce’s third point, namely that even Jospehus doesn’t bother to name all the rebellions (the “ten thousand” tumultuous disorders, in Josephus’ usual flair for exaggeration) he claims to know about between the death of Herod the Great and the rise of Judas the Galilean. Dr. Pervo’s first response to this is, “It remains unclear why Gamaliel (or Luke) would elect [to mention] a relatively obscure example.” But the example is only relatively obscure to us, after the fact, due to comparison with the list of Josephus. It needn’t have been relatively obscure to people in Gamaliel’s time, place and condition, compared to that of Josephus 50 years later or so.

A better response would have been that, whenever Acts was written (even as early as the mid60s), the Theudas from the 40s would be more familiar to readers than any Theudas from the time preceding JudGal. Maybe so, but by terms of the story that Theudas still wouldn’t have been familiar to Gamaliel, and the author of Acts doesn’t tend to break dialogue flow to interject corrections so that his reading audience won’t get the wrong idea. It might be replied again that he ought to have done so; but aside from this being a complaint about the author being a little too exact about his sources at the expense of his audience (a charge that might be leveled at him elsewhere in Acts as well!), the more obvious answer is that the author does in fact include a strongly pertinent detail about the relative timing. Someone reading the text in the 60s, who happened to know about the Theudas of the 40s, could easily think to himself, ‘Ah, not that Theudas’--without the author having to break narrative to explain this, or worse put the clarification anachronistically in the mouth of Gamaliel. Ditto for someone reading in the 80s. Whereas, someone reading in the 130s probably wouldn’t give much of a hoot which Theudas Gamaliel is talking about!--but if they happened to remember the one from the 40s, this is still a neatly economical way to distinguish between them.

Dr. Pervo, moving away from this rebuttal (still page 156), thinks a more pointed reply to Dr. Bruce’s third defense is that when Josephus discusses rebels before the time of Jesus he does so in terms of the rebels being royal pretenders to the throne (unsurprising since most of Josephus’ accounts of rebellion prior to Jesus involve instigators rising in the wake of the death of Herod the Great), whereas during and after Jesus’ time Josephus usually presents them in prophetic terms. Josephus thus notably characterizes Theudas as a false prophet (also as a magician), who meant to provide prophetic signs that he should be followed against the leaders in Jerusalem (namely by parting the Jordan for his soldiers to cross, as Joshua had done.)

Fair enough; but what in the world does this have to do with Acts?! Dr. Pervo himself acknowledges that Acts says nothing about the mission of its Theudas one way or another; which is not the best way to forge a link between Luke’s reference and Josephus’, as Dr. Pervo is well aware!

So Dr. Pervo claims, not simply that Theudas was claiming to be a prophet, but that he believed himself to be Joshua returned from the dead. From this Dr. Pervo extrapolates a comparison to the language of Acts: Theudas “said he was somebody”. So, that must be a reference to the Theudas of Antiquities, right?

The long answer to this (aside from Noooooooooooo) is that Dr. Pervo’s effort requires going far outside the actual text of Antiquities, which doesn’t remotely say that its Theudas thought of himself ‘as being someone’ (or polysyllabic variations thereof). Josephus does call him an imposter, but even Dr. Pervo admits (same page, 156) that this terminology means false prophet--it doesn’t have to mean Theudas was posing as Joshua reborn/returned. Nor does mimicking a prior prophet (or attempting to do so) mean someone is claiming to be that prophet reborn or returned from the dead, as the original OT Joshua’s own case makes clear enough: he wasn’t trying to claim he was Moses!--only that he was Moses’ proper successor in prophetic authority. It also seems rather bizarre that Theudas, whose unusual name is not a special variant of Joshua, would have been known afterward as Theudas instead of Joshua if he was trying to pass himself off as the great military hero and prophetic authority Joshua returned.

(We could sheerly imagine that maybe Theudas thought another “Joshua”, whose followers had been claiming for the past 10 years or so that he had returned from the dead as God Almighty or something of that sort, had sullied the name. But sheerly imagining an extra hypothesis to save the hypothesis, doesn’t really make the whole theory more inherently plausible.)

Sensing, perhaps, that he is rather failing to draw some clear connection between what Josephus doesn’t say (that Theudas was claiming to be Joshua, or even was claiming to just be “somebody”, i.e. somebody great), and what Acts does say about its Theudas (that he was claiming to be somebody), Dr. Pervo tries to draw a comparison between how Luke describes both Simon Magus and his Theudas (“saying that he was someone great”, “saying that he was someone”, respectively) and how Josephus describes his Theudas. Since a similar phraseology simply isn’t there in Antiquities, he then imagines how Josephus would describe Simon Magus (which Josephus also does not): an imposter. Which Dr. Pervo has to admit (p.157) is a term (goes) that Luke does not use anywhere, including in regard to either Simon Magus or his Theudas.

The result is that Dr. Pervo himself explicitly demonstrates that the wording in Acts describing Theudas is distinctly different in terms from the wording in Antiquties--a difference Dr. Pervo doesn’t even remotely smooth over in his imagination of how Josephus would describe a somewhat different kind of magician than Theudas.

But his thesis has to have some serious similarities between Luke and Josephus on this point, so Dr. Pervo (apparently supposing the reader will simply and conveniently forget what he himself has just reported) forges on ahead regardless (my emphasis): “Luke/Gamaliel thus characterizes Theudas in terms very much like those of Josephus. If this were an item of comparison between Acts and the epistles it would be celebrated as an ‘undesigned coincidence’.”

True, Eusebius (as Dr. Pervo reports, p 157) appeals to Book 20 of Josephus as supporting the accuracy of Acts chp 5--although I feel safe saying that Eusebius did not do so by pointing out terminological similarities of the sort Dr. Pervo has very explicitly imagined to exist there! But so what? This only proves that Eusebius was galactically inept at comparing Josephus and Luke--something we can be sure of because Eusebius specifically makes the attempt at comparison. It does not prove that Luke was galactically inept at borrowing a couple of details from the text of Josephus for his own work; it does not even suggest it, except by the thinnest innuendo.

I cannot say I find Dr. Pervo’s own attempts at comparing Luke and Josephus here very ept, however. On the contrary, it seems more like his “ingenuity of a Gamaliel” against the straightforward content of the texts, in order to forge a link of dependence “at nearly any cost” (as he charges shortly afterward against “those who would preserve the accuracy of Acts”.)

Next time: why differences are important enough to discount...


Jason Pratt said…
Comment registration blah blah. {g} (Gosh, I wish Blogger had some way to do this other than to leave a comment on my own post... Anyone better at Blogger here is welcome to give me a clue how to do this!)

Layman said…
Thanks again, Jason.

Sometimes I have trouble following an argument and cannot determine at first whether I am missing some basic point or the argument itself is missing the basic point.

This is Pervo's conclusion: “Gamaliel/Luke thus characterizes Theudas in terms very much like those of Josephus.” Page 157.

I've been trying to understand this particular component of Pervo's case for Josephan dependence and your post nudged me towards concluding that in this case it is the argument itself that is missing a basic point or two.

To establish similarity in characterization, Pervo moves beyond the name and status as some sort of revolt leader. That ground has been covered so Pervo must be contending that there is something else about the way that Acts characterizes Theudas that is very similar to the way Josephus characterizes him. Moreover, it is not just the ultimate characterization that is supposed to be very similar, but the "terms" used by both writers.

One of his first arguments along this tack has to do with Pervo’s claim that in Josephus’ Antiquities, Theudas claims to be Joshua returned to life. Pervo states that Theudas “claimed to be a Joshua redivivus.” But Josephus never states that Theudas claimed to be Joshua at all, much less come back to life. What Josephus does write is that Theudas “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.” Nowhere does Josephus use the name Joshua when describing Theudas or Theudas’ claims. I will agree that Theudas in Josephus evokes the traditions of Joshua, who was thought of as a prophet and was leading the Israelites when God parted the Jordan river for their entry into the promised land (though Joshua himself did not “command” it to part). So while I understand where Pervo is coming from on this, he overstates the case. Josephus could have had Theudas claim to be Joshua come back from the dead, but he did not do so. More likely, Josephus mean to have Theudas evoke the memory of Joshua without claiming to be him.

Having gone through all of that, however, what is Pervo's point? How does Acts characterize Theudas? Does it claim he was Joshua? A prophet? That he would divide the Jordan river? Not at all. Acts simply sates that Theudas claimed “to be somebody.” So there is no similarity here. Josephus’ terms here are not “very much like” Acts. But does Josephus elsewhere use the phase “to be somebody” when discussing Theudas or even any of the other rebels? No. Nor does Pervo claim that is a typically Josephan phrase used elsewhere in his writings. Jason, am I missing something else about the reference to Joshua? Even if true, how does it help Pervo’s case?
Layman said…
Evoking the memory of Joshua and claiming that Theudas claimed to be a prophet does not exhaust Josephus’ characterization. Perhaps there is a better example that supports Pervo’s conclusion. Josephus refers to Theudas as “a certain magician.” (or charlatan or quack). However, Acts nowhere uses that phrase to refer to Theudas, as Pervo admits. Ah, Pervo, says, that may be true but Acts uses a similar term later to refer to Simon Magus, who Luke describes as someone who “practices sorcery.” These characterizations are rather similar, as accusations of practicing magic or sorcery were highly negative. So far so good, but what does this have to do with Acts’ portrayal of Theudas? Pervo contends that if Josephus had referred “to a person like Simon Magus” he would have used the same term that Josephus uses to describe Theudas. After this statement, Pervo claims “Luke/Gamaliel thus characterizes Theudas in terms very much like those in Josephus.” Page 157.

I’ve tried to look at this from different angles but I do not see what support Pervo thinks he has gathered for this conclusion. As we’ve seen, Acts and Josephus do not use similar terms to describe Theudas. There are no thematic or linguistic parallels. Luke does not characterize Theudas in terms like those in Josephus. Acts refers to Theudas as “saying he was somebody” whereas Josephus describes him as a magician (or charlatan) who claimed to be a prophet.

The appeal to Luke’s characterization of Simon Magus strikes me as a non-sequiter. It does nothing to support Pervo’s conclusion that Acts and Josephus use “very much” the same terms to characterize Theudas. I suppose Pervo could have argued that Acts uses a word to describe Simon Magus that is similar to a word Josephus uses to describe Theudas and this alone suggests copying, but that would be a very weak case. Is the word so unique that the only way that Luke would have thought to call Simon Magus a sorcerer or charlatan was from having read Josephus? In other words, such an argument would be that Josephus basically invented the term. But Pervo makes no such case nor could he. C.K. Barrett cites different sources showing that it was a “loaner” word from Persian that by the “fifth century BC” came to mean “quack.” Acts 1-14, page 405. Barrett also points out that Philo used the term, pre-dating both Josephus and Luke by decades.

Further, Luke uses a similar term elsewhere in Acts (13:6, 8). So if it is suggested that Luke derived the term from Josephus' reference to Theudas we must suppose that Luke forgot to apply it to Theudas but modified the term and applied it in three other places in Acts. Given that Luke uses this term elsewhere at least three times but not in his characterization of Theudas would seem to count against, not for, dependence on Josephus.

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