CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Note: Part 5 of this series can be found here. It discusses how Dr. Richard Pervo, in his 2006 edition of Dating Acts, and in regard to his theory of the author of Acts depending on reference to Josephus, ends up having to having to appeal to argument B not only to make argument A seem more plausible but to answer in a non sequitur fashion an oncoming critique of part of his argument for A--when the reason he explicitly started with A was to help make subsequent arguments for the dating of Acts post-Antiquities, including argument B, seem more plausible!

So having spun the reader's head around a few times, he plows onward now to his strongest primary evidence.


Part 6 -- Error, Error! (Or, wait, not...??)

Having quickly leapt away from trying to explain how the 400 number can even plausibly fit into his theory (answering expected critiques of his argument there by spinning the reader around with circular plausibility appeals to a completely different dating argument which has nothing in the least to do with that 400 number {inhale!}), Dr. Pervo tries to make sure (bottom of page 158) that the reader is conditioned ahead of time to already agree that Gamaliel has “embarrass[ed] Luke by placing the historically prior revolt of Judas after the disturbance of Theudas”.

Had Dr. Pervo already sufficiently established this, he wouldn’t be going on to talk now, at long last (p.159), about the only primary positive evidence he has: the relative order of Theudas/Judas in both texts--an order he refers to as being evidence in favor of what he has already declared to the reader to be true.

Nor is his tactic at the bottom of page 158 a one-off fluke to salt the taste of the reader (much as he did at the start of his argument; see Part 2 of my critique for details.) He keeps on insisting during his comparison that Luke is in error, error, error, instead of letting the strength of his analysis, such as it is, convince the reader of this. Otherwise, when Dr. P writes, “the most economical solution to the error of Acts 5 is to attribute it to Luke’s use of Josephus”, the reader (unless he is constantly barraged to consider it an error already) might just as reasonably reply: Nooooooooooo, the most economical solution to the chronological differences stated in the texts of Acts 5 and Antiquities 20, is that the texts are talking about chronologically different events. We do not have to explain the chronological disparity unless we already have well-inferred that the two Theudases must be the same.

But Dr. P has given us no good reason, so far, to infer this. We could hypothetically suppose it on the notion of conservation of Theudases (so to speak), but there is no good reason to trod down data in the texts which count against that hypothesis being true, simply in order to save the hypothesis--much less by using the hypothesis as though it is an already established fact in order to trod down the actual data on the page!

It is very important to keep in mind: the notion that the two references are to the same Theudas is the speculative hypothesis; the textual data does not explicitly require this in any way. What the textual data does explicitly require is that the Theudas of Acts rebelled before Judas the Galilean, and the Theudas of Antiquities rebelled after Judas the Galilean. The data itself, taken as itself, weighs directly in favor of there being two different incidents. Dr. Pervo himself supposedly knows better than to simply assume Josephus is more ‘correct’ than Luke--he says as much at the start of his chapter on this topic--but his methodology when considering his own main positive evidence has been nevertheless to assume that we have already settled the question with Luke being in error. Otherwise his demonstration simply would not work.


Relatedly, after having very briefly covered (at the transition between pp 158-159) his own main positive evidence, mainly by browbeating the reader with the declaration that Luke must be in error and the error must be explained, Dr. Pervo concludes, “The error can thus be explained by presuming [my emphasis] that the author of Acts overlooked ‘the sons of’ and wrote, or remembered, only ‘Judas’”.

Obviously it’s possible for a reader, even a trained historian, to do just that, as Eusebius does; but Dr. Pervo still has to presume Luke has done so. He has not argued to an inference of error; and indeed, as he himself explicitly illustrates here, his explanation of one effectively presumed error (that Luke put a failed messianic claimant in the mouth of someone who couldn’t have known about that claimant and his failure yet) requires sheerly presuming that Luke made another error: accidentally ignoring Josephus’ very clear qualification that the sons of Judas the Galilean were who were slain after Theudas the magician, not Judas the Galilean himself (whom Josephus goes on to briefly but very explicitly remind his reader about--a reminder Luke also has to accidentally ignore, since that reminder reminds the reader that Josephus already wrote about this in a previous book. Prior to the death of Theudas, in other words.)


Then, at the conclusion of his argument, after having hammered pretty consistently on the notion that (in effect) Luke mistakenly misread Josephus, Dr. Pervo suddenly tries to present Luke, not as “misreading” Josephus, but as making selective use of Josephus for his own very different purposes.

Dr. P is not at all clear about what Luke’s rationale is supposed to be for making such an intentionally selective use of Josephus--it would seem more “economical” to suggest that Luke simply misread Josephus!

But we have already seen that an accidental misread doesn’t fit very well with Luke’s obviously conscious choice to use 400 as the number of men following Theudas. Even Dr. Pervo realizes it will not seem very plausible that Luke just accidentally made a more sober and particular estimate for the number of Theudas’ followers while doing a quick scan of this part of Book 20 for something he might have his Gamaliel character plausibly say--which is exactly why Dr. P had to imagine some conscious rationale for that 400 number. (A rationale which doesn’t at all fit Luke’s own enumeration on the topic Dr. P imagines is being tacitly referenced here, remember.) But the notion of Luke’s Theudas/Judas reference being an accidental misreading of Josephus is even more problematic than this--as will be shown when the thesis is spelled out in detail. Something Dr. Pervo signally fails to do (at least here, in this part of his argument, where it would have been most important and appropriate).


Next time: why spelling out the thesis is too important to not ignore...

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