New Testament Parallels to the Works of Josephus - Page Two
New Testament Parallels to the Works of Josephus (Continued)
Index to the Parallels
Theudas, and Judas
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted
to kill him. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of
the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be
put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites,
consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago
Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four
hundred, joined him; but he wa killed, and all who followed him were dispersed
and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the
census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed
him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from
these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking
is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be
able to overthrow them -- in that case you may even be found fighting against
Antiquities 20.5.1 97-99
During the time when Fadus was procurator
of Judea a certain enchanter named Theudas persuaded a great number
of the people to take their belongings with them and follow him to the
Jordan River. He told them he was a prophet and that he would, by
his own command, divide the river and afford them an easy passage through
it. And many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them
to gain the result of this wildness, but sent a troop of horsemen out against
them who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many
of them captive. 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
Antiquities 20.5.2 102
And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were
now slain. This was the Judas who caused the people to revolt against the
Romans when Quirinius came to take an account of Judea, as we have showed
in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, who
were crucified by order of Alexander.
Theudas was one of the many
charismatic figures described by Josephus who gained large followings for
short periods of time before succumbing to the forces of the procurator.
Some of these are explicitly linked to the revolutionaries, particularly
as war approached during the time of Nero, and some just seem to be religious
leaders, such as the
by Pontius Pilate. They all seemed to claim that Deuteronomy 18:15-22 refers
Judas the Galilean again makes
his appearance in these parallels, although this is the only time he is
mentioned by name in the New Testament. Here, two of his sons are crucified;
but others would go on to take part in the War. The procurator involved
here, Alexander, governed from 46 to 48 CE.
There is a famous discrepancy
here between Josephus and the quotation from Acts. The speech made by Gamaliel
occurs in the 30's CE, not long after Jesus' death. But Theudas arose under
Fadus, who was procurator from 44 to 46. So Gamaliel's speech is anachronistic.
Furthermore, Gamaliel here states that Judas the Galilean arose after Theudas,
in the time of the census; but this was in 6 CE.
The usual scholarly positions
have been taken to alternately preserve or attach the accuracy of the New
Testament. Perhaps there was another, earlier Theudas that Josephus forgot
to mention; perhaps the text of Acts has been corrupted in transmission.
One interesting theory is that Luke (the author of Acts) read Josephus
erroneously. Supporting this notion is the mention of Judas the Galilean's
sons at section 102, just a few lines after the end of the description
of Theudas at 99. A misreading or poor notetaking could cause someone to
think Theudas appeared before Judas. It is rather hard to see, though,
how someone could so badly misread the Antiquities in this way, including
ignoring the references to the procurators. A reasonable secular explanation
is that Luke used some other, less reliable history that bore similarities
to Josephus; perhaps this also served as one of Josephus' sources.
The import of the parallel
is that Jesus was not seen by his contemporaries as a wholly unique figure.
There were other charismatic leaders whom the people believed to be prophets
and miracle-workers. Like the others, he fell victim to the procurator.
What made Jesus different in the eyes of his contemporaries was that his
followers did not cease their activities even after his death.
The Famine under Claudius
At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to
Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit
that there would be a server famine over all the world; and this took place
during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to
their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea;
this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Antiquities 20.2.5 49-53
Her arrival was very advantageous to the
people of Jerusalem; for a famine oppressed them at that time, and many
people died for want of money to procure food. Queen Helena sent some of
her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of grain,
and others of them to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. They
quickly returned with the provisions, which she immediately distributed
to those that need. She has thus left a most excellent memorial by
the beneficence which she bestowed upon our nation. And when her son Izates
was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal
men in Jerusalem.
Antiquities 20.5.2 101
The successor of Fadus was Tiberius Alexander...it
was in that (or their) administration that the great famine occurred in
Judea, during which Queen Helen bought grain from Egypt for large sums
and distributed it to the needy, as I have stated above.
The date of the famine described by Josephus is uncertain, due to a difficult
text. If under Alexander it occurred between 46 and 48 CE, but it may have
started in Fadus' time, as early as 44. The Emperor Claudius ruled from
41 to 54, matching the dating in Acts. This also helps to date the activities
of the apostles prior to Acts 11.
The Death of Herod Agrippa I
Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to
him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king's chamberlain,
they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the
king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes,
took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.
The people kept shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!" And
immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the
Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Antiquities 19.8.2 343-361
Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all
Judea he came to the city Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's
Tower; and there he exhibited spectacles in honor of Caesar, for whose
well-being he'd been informed that a certain festival was being celebrated.
At this festival a great number were gathered together of the principal
persons of dignity of his province. On the second day of the spectacles
he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture,
and came into the theater early in the morning. There the silver of his
garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays, shone
out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over
those that looked intently upon him. Presently his flatterers cried out,
one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good)
that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although
we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth
own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king neither rebuked
them nor rejected their impious flattery. But he shortly afterward looked
up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately
understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, just as it
had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest
sorrow. A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent
intensity. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you
call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence
thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by
you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I
am bound to accept what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have
by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." When he had
said this, his pain became violent. Accordingly he was carried into the
palace, and the rumor went abroad everywhere that he would certainly die
soon. The multitude sat in sackcloth, men, women and children, after the
law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places
were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high
chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground he
could not keep himself from weeping. And when he had been quite worn out
by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in
the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign.
He ruled four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip's
tetrarchy only, and on the fourth that of Herod was added to it; and he
reigned, besides those, three years under Claudius Caesar, during which
time he had Judea added to his lands, as well as Samaria and Cesarea. The
revenues that he received out of them were very great, no less than twelve
millions of drachmae. But he borrowed great sums from others, for he was
so very liberal that his expenses exceeded his incomes, and his generosity
Agrippa the First was the
grandson of Herod I and
Mariamme; his father
was Aristobulus. Josephus informs us he reigned from 37 to 44 CE, dates
which are confirmed by many
in Israel. The reference in Acts thus helps to date early Christian activities,
particularly the travels of Paul. Josephus does not describe settling a
conflict with Tyre and Sidon as Acts does, but the two accounts do agree
that Agrippa was being hailed as a god at the moment he was struck down
A few lines after this section,
Josephus tells us that Agrippa left four children: three daughters, Berenice,
aged 16, Mariamme, aged 10, and Drusilla, aged 6; and a son, Agrippa II,
aged 17. Three out of these four are mentioned later in Acts.
Expulsion of the Jews from Rome
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
There he fund a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently
come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all
Jews to leave Rome.
Antiquities 18.3.5 81-84 (related)
Tiberius...ordered the whole Jewish community to leave Rome. The consuls
drafted four thousand of these Jews for military service and sent them
to the island of Sardinia; but they penalized a good many of them, who
refused to serve for fear of breaking the Jewish law. Thus the Jews were
banished from the city for the wickedness of four men.
Josephus describes a (temporary)
expulsion of Jews from Rome under Emperor Tiberius, but not a later one
under Claudius (reigned 41 to 54). However, the Roman author Suetonius,
writing several years after Josephus, briefly mentions that Claudius expelled
the Jews from the city because of "continuous disturbances at the instigation
This is puzzling, as Claudius
was a firm friend of the Jews, Josephus emphasizes; in fact, he was a close
friend since childhood of Agrippa I, who assisted him in gaining the throne.
Josephus' view of Claudius is unrelievedly favorable. DOes this mean that
Josephus did not want to mention this anti-Jewish action because of a bias
toward Claudius? Or does it mean the action was so small and irrelevant
to the Jews as to be neither worth mentioning nor able to have any effect
on Josephus' opinion of the emperor?
A modern analysis of all available
evidence is given in Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's Paul: A Critical Life (1996). The most probable scenario we can construct, he determines,
is that the action of Claudius was small, and that he expelled from the
city only Jews who were not Roman citizens. Christian missionaries would
have been in this group; they may have been causing conflict with the Jews
of the city by their proselytizing. Murphy-O'Connor dates this action to
41, but doubts that Luke is accurate in associating it with Paul's arrival
Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks,
he said to the tribune, "may I say something to you?" The tribune replied,
"Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred
up a revolt and led four thousand of the sicarii out into the wilderness?"
Antiquities 20.8.5 169-172 (War 2.13.5 261)
These deeds of the robbers filled the city with all sorts
of impiety. And now conjurers and deceivers persuaded the multitude to
follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would show them
manifest wonders and signs that would be performed by the providence of
God. And many that were persuaded suffered the pain of their folly,
for Felix brought them back and punished them. At this time there came
out of Egypt to Jerusalem a man who said he was a prophet, and advised
the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the mountain
called the Mount of Olives, which lay a distance of five furlongs from
the city. He said that he would show them that at his command the
walls of Jerusalem would fall down, through which he promised that he would
procure them an entrance into the city. Now when Felix was informed of
this he ordered his soldiers to take up their weapons, and with a great
number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem he attacked the Egyptian
and the people that were with him. He slew four hundred of them and took
two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped from the fight and
did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to
make war with the Romans.
The time Josephus describes
is the latter 50's CE, which is consistent with the quoted Acts incident;
the latter is depicted as occuring in 57/58 CE. As in the case
of Theudas, Jesus' followers are confused with the deceivers who were seen
as a threat to Rome. Josephus does not say that the Egyptian was interested
in revolt, but he sandwiches the account between two descriptions of the
rebels. On the other hand, Acts explicitly states the Egyptian's followers
were sicarii, the knife-wielding terrorists that assassinated Roman
sympathizers. It's easy to speculate that this equation by the Romans of
"popular leader = mortal threat" had a strong influence on how Jesus and
his followers were treated by those in power.
Ananias the High Priest
While Paul was looking intently at the council he said,
"Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience
before God." Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him
to strike him on the mouth.
Five days later the high priest Ananias came
down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported
their case against Paul to the governor.
Antiquities 20.5.2 103
Herod, king of Chalcis, now removed Josephus
son of Camei from the high priesthood and appointed Ananias son of Nedebeus
Ananias was appointed in 49
CE and was succeeded in 59 by Ishmael son of Phabi. This dating accords
with the account in Acts, which is set in the time of Felix (52-59).
Ananias was very wealthy and
influential, and an ardent anti-revolutionary. He used all his skill to
keep the revolution in check; but he was killed at the start of the war
in 66 by Menahem, the son of
Judas the Galilean
(War 2.17.9 441).
The hostility of the high
priest to the Christians matches that described by Josephus when he describes
the death of James at the hand of the high priest Ananus (note the spelling;
this is not Ananius). It's a good possibility that Ananus learned from
the failure the priests had had with Paul, whom they also, according to
Acts, had desired to kill. Paul had been saved by a centurion who brought
him to the governor, Felix. In the case of James, Ananus waited until there
was no governor -- Festus died in office -- and while the nation was temporarily
without Roman authority he had the chance to seize and kill James without
interruption. But he did not get away with it -- the hasty action cost
him the high priesthood when the new governor arrived.
Felix the Procurator, and his wife Drusilla
Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla,
who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in
Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming
judgment, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present; when
I have an opportunity, I will send for you." At the same time he hoped
that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send
for him very often and converse with him.
Antiquities 20.7.1 137-144
Then Claudius sent Felix, the brother of Pallas,
to manage the affairs of Judea. After completing the twelfth year of his
reign, Claudius granted to Agrippa the tetrarchy of Philp, and Batanea,
and added to them Trachonites with Abila, which had been the tetrarchy
After receiving this gift from the emperor, Agrippa
gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus king of Emesa, who had consented
to be circumcised. ...And when Agrippa had received these countries from
the emperor, he gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of
Emesa, upon his consent to be circumcised. For Epiphanes, the son of king
Antiochus, had refused to marry her, and although he had promised her father
to convert to the Jewish religion he would not now fulfill his promise....The
marriage of Drusilla to Azizus was not long afterward dissolved upon the
following occasion: While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla
and fell in love with her; for she exceeded all other women in beauty.
And so he sent to her one of his friends, Atomus, a Jew from Cyprus who
pretended to be a magician, who endeavored to persuade her to leave her
present husband and marry Felix. He promised, that if she would not refuse,
he would make her a very happy [felix] woman. Accordingly she acted
ill, and because she desired to avoid the jealousy of her sister Berenice
-- for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty -- was
prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry
Felix. She gave birth to a son by him whom she named Agrippa. How this
young man and his wife perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius,
in the days of Titus Caesar, shall be described later.
Felix was procurator from
52 to 59/60 CE. The first date is specified by the passage cited here,
the twelfth year of Claudius. The second date is not given anywhere in
Josephus (although he does tell us Felix's governorship ended under Nero,
who became emperor in 54). The latter date is a speculation derived chiefly
from the end of procuratorial
after 58 CE and an interpretion of a passage in Eusebius. For more details,
see Murphy-O'Connor's Paul.
During the time of Claudius
Felix was well-behaved, but under Nero, like the other governors, he bloomed
into full corruption. Paul was arrested in 57 CE, near the end of Felix's
term in office, so the report that he wanted Paul to bribe him agrees with
Josephus' account, as does the implied criticism of Felix for lacking "justice"
and "self-control." For more on Felix see
of the War.
Drusilla, sister of Agrippa
II, married Felix about 54 CE, at the age of 16. We don't hear anything
else about her in Josephus after this.
Festus the Procurator
After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded
by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix
left him in prison. Three days after Festus had arrived in the province,
he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders
of the Jews gave him a report against Paul.
Antiquities 20.8.9-10 182-186
When Porcius Festus was sent by Nero as successor
to Felix, the leaders of the Jewish community of Caesarea went up to Rome
to accuse Felix.
...When Festus arrived in Judea, it happened that
Judea was afflicted by robbers, for all the villages were being set on
fire and plundered by them. And then it was that the sicarii, as
they were called, who were robbers, grew more numerous.
Festus was procurator from
59/60 to 62 CE. The first date is deduced as described in the discussion
on Felix. The date of the end of Festus' reign
is more certain; he died in office and was replaced by Albinus, who Josephus
tells us interrogated the soothsayer
at the Succoth celebration four years before the war, i.e., in autumn 62
CE (War 6.5.3 305).
Thus Acts gives us one fairly
firm date: Paul was brought before Festus in Jerusalem in 59/60 CE, and
not long afterward was sent to Rome to appeal to Nero. Since
we are also told Paul was two years in prison prior to Festus' arrival
we know he was arrested in 57/58 CE; aand we know from Acts 28:30 that
he spent two whole years in Rome, putting the end of Acts, and the New
Testament, at c. 62 CE.
While at the moment of Festus'
arrival Acts depicts leaders of the Jews concerned with accusing Paul to
Felix in Caesarea, Josephus notes they had more serious social concerns:
justice for the misdeeds of Felix and some control over the anarchy arising
from the "robbers," many of whom, such as the sicarii, were anti-Roman
revolutionaries; there was also ethnic rioting in Caesarea.
Agrippa II and Berenice
After several days had passed, King Agrippa and
Berenice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. SInce they were staying
there several days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king...
Paul said,..."King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?
I know that you believe." Agrippa said to Paul, "Are you so quickly persuading
me to become a Christian?"
Antiquities 20.7.3 145
Berenice lived a widow for a long time after the
death of Herod [king of Chalcis], who had been both her husband and her
uncle. But when the report circulated that she had sexual relations with
her brother [Agrippa II], she persuaded Poleme, the king of Cilicia, to
be circumcised and to marry her, supposing that in this way she would prove
those accusations about her to be false. Poleme was prevailed upon chiefly
on account of her riches. Yet this marriage did not endure long; for Berenice
left Poleme, so it is said, out of licentiousness. He abandoned his marriage
and the Jewish religion at the same time.
Herod, King of Chalcis, was
the brother of Agrippa I, who was the father of Berenice and Agrippa II.
So this Herod was Berenice's uncle, and eventually became her husband.
He died in 43 CE, when Berenice was 15. After her brief second marriage,
Berenice did not marry again. Her brother Agrippa II never married. Neither
of them had any children we know of.
The brother and sister tried
to keep both Florus and the rebellion in check, but ultimately did not
succeed; they lost much in the war. But Agrippa continued to be recognized
by the Romans as king of his lands, as his
Agrippa II was a friend
of Josephus, over time writing him sixty-two letters (Life 1.65 364). This
forms a connection between Josephus and Paul at only one degree of separation:
we are certain Josephus knew Agrippa well, and we also know that Paul discussed
Christianity with Agrippa, if the Acts report is accepted. It's quite possible,
then, that Josephus knew of Paul's activities.
The Widow's Mite and Sacrifices
Mark 12:32-34, 41-44 (Luke 21:2-4)
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher;
you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'
; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding,
and with all the strength," and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,' --
this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and scrificies."
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far
from the kingdom of God."...
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the
crowd putting money in the the treasury. Many rich people put in large
sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth
a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you,
this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to
the treasury. For all of them have contriubted out of their abundance;
but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to
Antiquities 6.7.4 147-149
But the prophet Samuel replied [to Saul], "God is
not delighted with sacrifices, but with good and with righteous men, who
are such as follow his will and his laws, and never think that anything
is well done by them but when they do it as God had commanded them: that
he then looks upon himself as affronted, not when any one does not sacrifice,
but when any one appears to be disobedient to him....
"And that he is delighted with those that still
bear in mind this one thing, and this only, how perfrom whatever God commands
for them to do, and to choose rather to die than to transgress any of those
commands; nor does he require so much as a sacrifice from them, of if they
do, though it be a small offering, he more galdly accepts this from
poverty, than those that come from the richest men."
Within 10 verses of each other,
Mark links a reference to Samuel concerning the necessity of sacrifices
with the idea of the relative value of sacrifices by the rich versus the
poor. The interesting parallel here is that Josephus discusses the
same two concepts within a few lines of each other. Was there a reading
of the biblical text by the Rabbis of the time by which both these authors
The biblical text in question
is 1 Samuel 15:22: "And Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as great delight in
burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely,
to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.' "
In Mark, the questioner of
Jesus (not Jesus himself) refers to this passage without attribution, associating
"obeying the voice of the Lord" to three commandments: monotheism, to love
the Lord fully, and to love one's neighbor. Josephus is quoting Samuel
as part of his retelling of the Bible for a Greek-speaking audience, and
in doing so he explicates various passages in such a way that only a knowledgable
reader could tell where the Biblical text ends and Josephus' explanation
begins. In the present case, Josephus is clearly concerned that people
could read this text and meaning that sacrifices to the Lord are unnecessary.
In a long-winded elaboration of the text, Josephus assures the reader this
is an inaccurate conclusion. The important concept is obedience -- and,
of course, as the Lord commanded sacrifices, to be obedient one must sacrifice.
Sacrifice is only one example of obedience, hence "obedience is greater
than sacrifice", as the whole is greater than the part.
The question of the necessity
of sacrifices is followed in each by the value of an individual sacrifice.
The logic of Josephus reconciling these two is simple: "the Lord does not
demand sacrifices...but if one does sacrifice..." If one does, the correct
attitude is more important than the monetary value. While one would expect
Jesus to make the same point, Mark instead relates the simple mathematical
observation about the relative percentage of net wealth of the offerings
of the rich versus poor. But we tend to read between the lines and take
it that Jesus is pointing out the greater piety of the woman, even if in
absolute terms her sacrifice is of lesser value: the point made by Jospehus.
In Mark (and Luke) these discussions
of sacrifice precede Jesus' prediction of the fall of the Temple and its
subsequent supernatural rebuilding. When Josephus wrote, the Temple was
already destroyed and the question of the need for sacrifice would have
been of great urgency, which no doubt influenced the writing of this passage.
Most scholars believe Mark and Luke probably assembled their gospels also
after the Temple was destroyed; the parallels with Josephus here may reflect
the real contemporary debates on whether one can worship without the Temple
Competing Missionaries and the Circumcision
Requirement for Converts
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and
were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the
custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had
no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of
the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question
with the apostles and the elders.
...Some believers who belonged to the sect of the
Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary for them to be circumcised
and ordered to keep the law of Moses."
James replied, "...It is written...all other
peoples may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles over whom my name has
been called....Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not
trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them
to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and
from whatever has been strangled and from blood."
Izates, King of Adiabene - Ant. 20.2.3-4 34-48
Now during the time when Izates lived at Charax Spasini,
a certain Jewish merchant named Ananias got among the king's women and
taught them to worship God according to the Jewish religion. Through them
he became known to Izates, whom he persuaded in like manner...
When Izates perceived that his mother was
highly pleased with the Jewish customs, he was eager to embrace them entirely
; and as he supposed that he could not he thoroughly a Jew unless he were
circumcised, he was ready to have it done.
But when his mother understood what he planned she
endeavored to stop him, and said to him that it would bring him into danger.
As he was king, she said, he would gain the enmity of his subjects
when they learned that he was so fond of rites that were strange
and foreign to them, and they would never bear to be ruled over by
a Jew. With this she for a time persuaded him to refrain. He related what
she had said to Ananias, who completely agreed with what his mother had
said and went so far as to threatened that to leave the king unless he
complied with this advice. Ananias said that he was afraid that if the
affiar would become public he would himself be in danger of punishment
for having caused it, having been the king's instructor in indecent
And he said that the king could worship God without
being circumcised, if he had fully committed himself to the laws of the
Jews, for this was superior to circumsicion. In addition, he said that
God would forgive him for not performing the rite as it was omitted out
of necessity and for fear of his subjects. So the king for a time complied
with the persuasions of Ananias.
But afterwards, as he had not completely left off
his desire, a certain other Jew that came out of Galilee, whose name was
Eleazar and who was esteemed to be very strict in the learning of his country,
persuaded him to perform the rite. For when Eleazar entered into the palace
to greet the king and found him reading the law of Moses, he said to him,
"You do not see, O king, that you are doing injury against the greatest
of the laws and so against God himself. For you ought to not only read
the law but also to practice what it commands. How long will you remain
uncircumcised? If you have not yet read the law concerning circumcision,
and so do not know what an impiety you are guilty of, read it now."
When the king had heard what he said, he delayed
no longer, but retired to another room, sent for a surgeon, and did what
was commanded. He then sent for his mother and Ananias his tutor, and informed
them that he had performed the rite. At once they were struck with great
astonishment and fear lest this be found out...
But it was God himself who prevented what they feared;
for when Izates and his sons fell into danger, he preserved them when it
seemed most impossible, and demonstrated thereby that the fruit of piety
does not perish for those that fix their eyes upon him and trust in him
alone. But these events we shall relate hereafter.
Here, in Acts and in Josephus,
we see opposing missionaries competing for converts to Judaism and applying
their own interpretations of what conversion means. The competition of
Acts appears graphically in Paul's letter to the Galatians. We see how
a missionary will visit Gentiles eager for a new way of life, convert them
successfully, and then find another missionary following on his trail with
a different version of Judaism.
In fact, the pattern is the
same in Acts, Galatians and in Josephus: the first missionary is more lenient,
letting the converts obey only the Jewish laws they are comfortable with,
and then the second missionary follows with an insistence on a stricter
observance of the law. One can interpret this in two or three ways. The
tendency to greater strictness may be natural among recent converts. Or
the stricter missionary may deliberately be following on the footsteps
of the more liberal ones so as to undo the damage, as the Jerusalem Christians
seemed to be following Paul's trail. If one were suspicious enough, one
might suspect the two groups purposely worked together, the first ones
luring converts with promises of easy acceptance, and once these have been
snared, the second group comes on to give the new converts the true story.
A particularly difficult requirement
for male converts was circumcision (Genesis 17:11). Thus in the story of
Izates it is easier for the king's mother and other women of the court
to be converted first -- this may also have been a deliberate missionary
tactic, to convert the females first, and then let them pressure the males
to follow suit.
King Izates is allowed to
remain uncircumcised because of his difficult situation. This accords with
the Rabbinic view that a commandment need not be performed if it endangers
life. (A succinct discussion of this point is given by Louis Feldman in
his footnote to this passage in the Loeb Edition of Antiquites 20.)
However, there is more thought
behind this leniency than just fear, for the missionary Ananias first emphasizes
that devotion is more important than circumcision: a view similar to that
of Paul and Barnabas in Acts (compare the concept "obedience is more important
than sacrifice" discussed above). It is only an addition to this point
that the specific situation of the danger to king and country is turned
to by Ananias. It could well also have been argued, by both Ananias and
Paul, that even Gentiles who are not kings are in danger from their society
if they embrace foreign rites -- at a minimum, they risk an outcast status
-- and, consequently, can also be pardoned for not following the entire
The line between the stricter
(the Pharisees, Eleazar) and the more lenient (James, Ananias) of the missionaries
was therefore really in the degree of suffering that the potential convert
may be expected to bear before the Lord will grant absolution from the
necessity of performing a certain commandment. Must life itself be in danger,
or is heavy psychological and social injury sufficient? Josephus, consistent
with other statements, suggests that either concept is acceptable, but
that nonetheless the stricter one adheres to the commandments the better,
and that if one does perform them, the suffering will not be as great as
feared, for the Lord will protect the faithful.
To mention some other interesting
points: in Acts it is the Pharisees who insist on the circumcision requirement,
and in Josephus Eleazar is identified as one who is known to be strict
in the law, which is Josephus' conventional description of a Pharisee.
Together these recall to one the statement of Jesus in Matthew 23:15: "Woe
to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to
make a single convert."
And the tomb of King Izates'
mother Helena (or so it is thought) may be visited in Jerusalem in the
present day. See the
Living as a Pharisee
Paul as a Pharisee - Acts 26:4 - 5
"All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent
from the first among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have know from
the beginning, if they are willing to testify, that I lived according to
the strictest sect of our religion, as a Pharisee."
Josephus as a Pharisee - Life 12
"So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned to the city,
being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to
the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which resembles the sect of the
Stoics, as the Greeks call them."
and Paul emphasize (1) their Pharisee life began when they were young,
and (2) that they conducted themselves as Pharisees. These statements may
indicate something of how the Pharisees were regarded in the middle of
the first century.
Seniority seemed important:
those who are late to the Pharisaic way of life are apparently not regarded
as highly as those who pursue that path from their earliest adult years.
This seniority carries a certain status and gives extra weight one's opinions.
And Pharisaism was a way of
life. It is not described here as a political party or a church. There
seem to be no entrance requirements or initiation rites: one does not "join"
the Pharisees as one might join, say, the Rosicrucians. Both Paul and Jospephus
describe a mode of being considered a Pharisee just by conducting oneself
as one. The word Paul uses in Greek for this is zao, "I lived" as
a Pharisee; Josephus decided "conduct" himself, katakolouthôn, as one. Both authors call the Pharisees a hairesis, a
school or sect (the derivation of the word connotes "taking a choice").
And Paul describes the Pharisees
as the most "strict", akribos, sect, the same Greek word Josephus
frequently uses to describe them.
Inner Court of the Temple Forbidden to Foreigners
Paul is Seized for
Violating the Trespassing Ordinance - Acts 21:26
...the Jews form Asia, who had seen him in the Temple, stirred up the whole
crowd. They seized him, shouting, "Fellow Israelites, help! This is the
man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our Law, and
this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the Temple
and has defiled this holy place." For they had previously seen Trophimus
the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought
him into the Temple.
The Inner Temple
War 5.5.2 193-4
One proceeded across this [the outer court] to the second court of the
Temple, which was surrounded by a stone partition, three cubits high, of
elegant workmanship. In this at regular intervals stood blocks of stone
stating the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Latin letters, that
no foreigner was permitted to enter the holy place.
Antiquities 15.11.5 417
Within it [the outer court] and not far distant was a second one, to
be gone up to by a few steps, which was encircled by a stone partition
with an inscription prohibiting the entrance of a foreigner under threat
of the penalty of death.
The Romans Permit the Prohibition and its Death Penalty - War 6.2.4
[the Roman General] Titus was deeply affected with this state of things
and reproached John and his party, and said to them, "Have not you, vile
wretches that you are, by our permission put up this partition-wall before
your sanctuary? Have not you been allowed to put up the stones on it at
due distances and on them to engrave in Greek, and in your own letters,
this prohibition that no foreigner should go beyond that wall? Have not
we given you leave to kill such as go beyond it, though he were a Roman?
And what do you do now, you pernicious villains? Why do you trample upon
corpses in the Temple? And why to you pollute this holy house with the
blood both of foreigners and of Jews themselves?"
Several portions of these stone warnings have been found by archaeologists,
including a complete inscription on a slab of hard limestone found in 1871
and now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The latter reads: "No foreigner
may enter within the partition and embankment that surround the holy place.
Anyone apprehended shall have himself to blame for his consequent death."
threat of death was made with the approval of the Romans, as we learn from
the speech by Titus Caesar to the Jerusalem revolutionaries late in the
War -- a speech for which Josephus himself served as interpreter (or as
fabricator). In the case of Paul, no one was put to death as a result of
the perceived transgression; even had it occurred, the punishment for abetting
a trespass is unclear. Certainly Paul, not being a-foreigner, could not
be put to death. Perhaps it was the gray area that Paul's offense fell
into, coupled with the conflicting jurisdiction in this special case of
Roman versus Jewish law, that left Paul in prison for so long before being
sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor.
two accounts of Josephus vary somewhat with each other and with the existing
stone. The War passage does not explicitly give the death penalty, and
the words translated here as "foreigner" differs in all three: in the War,
it is "one of another tribe (allophulos)", in the Antiquities
"one of another nation (alloethnes)", and in the existing stone,
"one of another race (allogenes)."