The shipwrecks of Josephus and Paul (Part 3)

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by Neil Godfrey

Let’s get some Jewish and historical balance to my notes on Paul’s shipwreck. Paul was not the only Jew sailing to Rome who suffered shipwreck. Compare historian Josephus’s description of his own voyage, from his Vita (Life):

But when I was in the twenty-sixth year of my age, it happened that I took a voyage to Rome, and this on the occasion which I shall now describe. At the time when Felix was procurator of Judea there were certain priests of my acquaintance, and very excellent persons they were, whom on a small and trifling occasion he had put into bonds, and sent to Rome to plead their cause before Caesar. These I was desirous to procure deliverance for, and that especially because I was informed that they were not unmindful of piety towards God, even under their afflictions, but supported themselves with figs and nuts. Accordingly I came to Rome, though it were through a great number of hazards by sea; for as our ship was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, we that were in it, being about six hundred in number, swam for our lives all the night; when, upon the first appearance of the day, and upon our sight of a ship of Cyrene, I and some others, eighty in all, by God’s providence, prevented the rest, and were taken up into the other ship. And when I had thus escaped, and was come to Dieearchia, which the Italians call Puteoli . . . .

Interesting to compare the length and style of the two accounts. The historian’s account makes the Acts story read like something straight out of a Hellenistic novel by comparison 😉 But enough has been said on that for now.

Robert Gnuse listed 12 coincidences of content between the two. His article is “Vita Apologetica: The Lives of Josephus and Paul in Apologetic Historiography” [JSP 13.2 (2002) 151-169]. The main difference is that Josephus is travelling to Rome on behalf of god-fearing priests who have been unjustly accused and forced to plead their case before Caesar.

  1. A Roman procurator, Felix, is involved in both accounts (cf Acts 24.1-27)
  2. Jewish religious leaders are involved in both accounts (priests in Vita and Paul in Acts)
  3. Felix causes Jewish religious leaders to be imprisoned (cf Acts 24.1-27)
  4. Felix’s actions result in prisoners going to Rome (cf Acts 25.10-11)
  5. The Jewish religious leaders are unjustly accused (cf Acts 24-26)
  6. Journey to Rome is by ship (cf Acts 27.1-44)
  7. The sea journey to Rome seeks to effect justice at the imperial level to undo injustice done at the provincial level (cf Acts 24-27)
  8. The ship not only sinks (cf Acts 27.41-44)
  9. But chooses to sink in the Adriatic Sea (cf Acts 27.27)
  10. The heroes, Josephus or Paul, act with courage and provide leadership (cf Acts 27.31-38)
  11. All passengers survive (presumably in Josephus’s account) (cf Acts 27.44)
  12. Both heroes pass through Puteoli (cf Acts 28.13-14)
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39 thoughts on “The shipwrecks of Josephus and Paul (Part 3)”

  1. There is certainly no such big difference between the two accounts. Neither of them use heavily metaphorical, ringing language (like Homer’s ‘wine-red sea’) to describe the incident. Both of them more or less just describe events in a succession (we went here…then we sailed there…stopped off there, etc.). But I would concur that if any parallels are to be found between the account in Acts and other ancient literature, it should be between Acts and another historiographical/biographical account, not ancient fiction.

    These coincidences described by Gnuse are nothing more than we would expect from the stories of distinct people who nevertheless had similar experiences. Anyone taking a voyage from Jerusalem to Rome would probably pass through Puteoli. Storms were frequent, and no doubt at least occasionally there were genuine heroics as some brave soul helped the others to survive. People definitely were able to plead their cause before the emperor.

    And if we’re going to be comparing the little details, the points at which the story differs should be counted as equally significant:

    1) Paul was not put in bonds by Felix himself (who actually said that Paul would have been set free, had he not appealed to Caesar), but personally decided to make his case to the Emperor.
    2) There is no hint that Luke was going to try to free Paul.
    3) Paul’s ship was not ‘drowned’, but dashed to pieces on the rocks near Malta.
    4) Josephus and co. do not escape the sea via dry land, but by encountering another ship.

    1. JD WALTERS, you have to understand INVERSION. The Poets / Tragedians of the Greco-Roman time period were notorious for taking a character (or characters) from another Poet / Tragedian (who usually lived before them), and then inverted the character qualities. For example, the character named ‘Elpenor’ in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ was a heavily borrowed character amongst Greco-Roman Poets. Plato borrowed from Homer’s character Elpenor, and made his own character named Er, and inverted some of his traits, while keeping others the same.

      1. Elpenor was a young soldier
      Er was a young soldier

      2. Elpenor was valiant in war
      Er was not valiant in war (inverted)

      3. Elpenor died in an accident (fall from a rooftop)
      Er died in battle

      4. Elpenor was not buried
      Er was not buried for 12 days

      5. Both of them went to the underworld / netherworld

      6. Elpenor was burned and buried at dawn
      Er was almost burned and buried at dawn

      7. Elpenor stayed dead but returned from underworld to tell what he had seen
      Er revived and told what he had seen in the underworld.

      There were many other Poets who borrowed heavily from Homer’s character Elpenor too, yet as you see, they left certain traits the same, while inverting (giving the opposite to) other traits. This was a common tactic among the Poets of the time period. It was the hallmark of a good poet to borrow, copy and rewrite your own story from as many sources as you possibly can.

      You can read more about that in my NOTE below :


  2. The “equal” focus on literary differences is a widely deployed but specious argument that fails to work with the real nature of literary borrowing, both direct and indirect. Differences per se are simply not “equally significant” in literary comparisons. If they were then there could be no such concept as literary borrowing at all, only either literary reproductions or each author writing afresh in complete isolation from her own literary culture so that all, not just some, similarities would be mere coincidences. Certainly authors who plagiarize know this well enough so attempt to hide their borrowings in different contexts. And ancient literary education involved students practicing re-writing scenarios and characters from epics in different contexts with different choices to make.

    Ditto with your reference to the “wine-red sea” — this is a rejection of possibility of influence on the basis of difference in styles: one rooted in ancient oral ballad carried over into more formal poetic epic and the other prose narrative for a different purpose.

    If it differs from the Bible in either style or some level of content then it can’t have had anything to do with influencing the origins of the bible, seems to be the bottom line of this argument.

    1. The problem is neither of these are literary accounts, they eyewitness accounts of events that actually transpired. Luke isn’t even very poetic in the way he describes things, his style of very dry and technical. That similar events were happening should be surprising, Felix obviously would have dealt with multiple situations like this. Both fleets may have bene caught in the same storm, of they may have been the same fleet but on different boats.

      1. Not at all. They are both by simple definition “literary” accounts because they are literature. Literary accounts can and many times do embrace a “historical” or “news event” or “eyewitness” style for the sake of verisimilitude. That’s how literary accounts have worked for millennia. Many times people have been deceived into thinking a fictional story is real simply because of the realism with which it is told. I have posted instances of this thing here on this blog. I referred to ancient writings that fooled many people for centuries. Whether a story is “real” requires more than the simple self-acclamation of the story itself. It always requires some form of independent third party evidence.

        I have been thinking of posting about a modern historian who was also fooled by the “realistic” or “historical” style of Luke into concluding that the style itself proved it was historical. But he simply overlooked the fact that the events described through that style are known to be total fiction.

  3. Hi Wayman,

    I understand and respect your thoughts on harmonizing the two sides. My quest is understanding as honestly as I can, regardless of where questions and studies may lead, and sharing parts of my explorations. Unfortunately this completely open approach is not appreciated by all, and some even find it threatening and something to be fought against.

    And yep, can’t agree more that the more we read the full texts of the ancients the more we can begin to appreciate and understand those texts that we still treasure from those times.


  4. No matter how devoted one is to their religious beliefs or ideas, it still dose not change the obvious literary motifs that were exchanged and borrowed. It is interesting to note here that those with and agenda in favor of the religious aspect of the literature in question will minimize at times the cultural influences, while those who are against maximize the extent of the exchange. This at times, throws the lay person into turmoil due to inner conflict on how to handle such information and still value the writings or accounts as sacred. Also, on the other hand, those who delve into such research at times loose respect for the literature and fail to reflect on the spiritual contribution the texts convey. It is my personal belief that their needs to be a mix, or a compartmentalization, if you will, so that both aspects of the literature can be examined and appreciated.

  5. Josephus should be read the whole way through and in my opinion the texts are not read enough to better understand the literary style on the New Testment. I am of the opinion that the accounts in Josephus and the biblical accounts were happening at the same time which would put the region into more turmoil then the NT relates in the texts. While not going overboard on the whole influence debate, in my opinion, reading Josephus explains why Christ, Paul and the other Apostles were persecuted so fiercely . To me it was not th traditionally belived view of simply rejecting the gospel it was more about a whole region being laid waste by the Romans if a revolt broke out. In that case, as relayed in Josephus, those living in the city took no chances and did not tolerate any idea that amassed a following that went against stability in the region. So if we read more of Josephus then just the ‘Testimonium Flavianum” one might benefit to a greater extent.

  6. Rather than point to a video (which few of us would be able to follow given the quality of its narrative — a narrative which bears no relationship with the background images which themselves are crude propaganda more appropriate to sixteenth-seventeenth century religious wars, revisited to add fuel to 21st C religious wars), I invite you to offer here support for your assertions — but first of all, which Josephan text are you referring to? and what is the evidence for it being a patchwork of different styles and authorships; and secondly, why Tacitus would have used it had he known of it.

  7. I think you will find that Puteoli is near Naples, not in the Adriatic. It is widely accepted that the ship floundered on Malta, and they took another ship from there – so in both accounts there was a ‘saviour’ ship.

    That mistake aside, what Gnuse fails to do, is draw in all the other similarities between Saul and Josephus. Little things like they both retired to literary persutes, writing about Jewish religion, and both used the same ‘publisher’, Epaphroditus.

    If you trace the details, and there are many of them, you will find that Saul is merely a pseudonym for Josephus – they were one and the same person. And the people who automatically claim that Josephus’ works are pseudographia are merely Judaeo-Christian apologists who want to deny the obvious truth.

    The problem they face is that is Saul was Josephus, for then we suddenly find a whole raft of new texts about the biblical Jesus; he was actually Jesus of Gamala-Sapphias, the revolutionary leader of the Fourth Sect of Judaism who controlled 600 revolutionary ‘fishermen’. Who else in this era was the leader of ‘fishermen’? There was a historical biblical Jesus.

    Please see my books ‘King Jesus’ and ‘Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs’ for details.

    Ralph Ellis

    1. If Paul and Josephus were fellow passengers, it would be an interesting coincidence, but one that Christian writers would not endeavor to point out, for the reason that it brings in sharper contrast Josephus’s utter ignorance of the Christian movement. Their position on board would have been widely different, Josephus being a passenger of some distinction, while Paul was a prisoner and making professions which, if noticed by Josephus at all, would but have excited his ridicule.

      Richard M. Mitchell, “A Theistic Refutation of the Divinity of Christ” (1893), (p. 179)

  8. The ship in Acts was not travelling to Rome but to Palestine, Caesarea. It was going in the opposite direction from that in Acts. One story was turned into two, the Acts story and the Josephus story. And there was no shipwreck.

  9. Submitted on 2011/04/01 at 8:54 pm

    And here is one event being covered-up. Paul supposedly travels to Rome in 60 to die in 62. James dies in Palestine in 62.

    Submitted on 2011/04/01 at 9:11 pm

    Paul is never heard of again. My contention is that James travelled from Rome to Jerusalem, via Caesarea in 60.

    Paul’s journey to Rome and subsequent death, was a substitute for James’s journey from Rome to Jerusalem, and his death.

      1. Josephus’s Life 3 is a partially fabricated interpolation to have Josephus visit Rome from Jerusalem. One’s suspicions are aroused by the opening and closing words of Life 3: “it happened that I took a voyage to Rome”, and “when, besides this favour, I had obtained many presents from Poppea, I returned home again.” This was an excursion fabricated by an editor. Felix the so-called procurator was fictitious – Judea was ruled by king Agrippa I.

        It was James who was sent from Rome to Jerusalem by Nero. James and Nero had heard that the prophets were being persecuted by the priests and were being locked-up (“put into bonds”) in the sanctuary. The Flavian editor unwittingly states what he knows about these men – “I was informed that they were not unmindful of piety towards God, even under their afflictions, but supported themselves with figs and nuts.” These men were not priests, but prophets who were pious, endured harsh treatment, and vegetarian. James, the leader of the prophets was sent to Jerusalem by Nero to help them. The “presents from Poppea” was a shipment of grain which James was to pick-up in Alexandria.

        Life 4 and 5 (up to: “so I retired to the inner court of the temple”) is also based on events in James’s life. This text has been taken from the end of Acts. It tells us a little of what happened to James when he got to Jerusalem. You can read the extant text almost word for word as applicable to James:

        “4. And now I perceived innovations were already begun, and that there were a great many very much elevated in hopes of a revolt from the Romans. I therefore endeavored to put a stop to these tumultuous persons, and persuaded them to change their minds; and laid before their eyes against whom it was that they were going to fight, and told them that they were inferior to the Romans not only in martial skill, but also in good fortune; and desired them not rashly, and after the most foolish manner, to bring on the dangers of the most terrible mischiefs upon their country, upon their families, and upon themselves. And this I said with vehement exhortation, because I foresaw that the end of such a war would be most unfortunate to us. But I could not persuade them; for the madness of desperate men was quite too hard for me. 5. I was then afraid, lest, by inculcating these things so often, I should incur their hatred and their suspicions, as if I were of our enemies’ party, and should run into the danger of being seized by them, and slain; since they were already possessed of Antonia, which was the citadel; so I retired into the inner court of the temple.”

        The inner court of the temple was where the prophets were incarcerated.

        The Journey from Rome to Jerusalem (To come)

          1. As right as you think you are, its better than your “literary evidence” that you present on the gospels. You are telling me what I already know. What I write is bound to ask as many questions as it answers. Whilst you scrat around the gospels with your “literary evidence”, I am trying to get at real events not literary ones.

            1. As you like questions: “Living with questions rather than answers has made me more open to all that life has to offer”, perhaps you would like to consider my outlandish assertion that raises a question:

              “Felix the so-called procurator was fictitious – Judea was ruled by king Agrippa I”

              1. Living with questions does not, for me, mean the same thing as doubting everything and wondering about the possibility of anything. I do not question gravity or wonder if I might be living in a giant invisible teapot. I like the idea of working with evidence. I ask for evidence but you only offer more speculations.

      2. I’m definitely with you on this one, Neil.

        James travelling to Rome? First I’ve ever heard of it.

        Whatever people think of Josephus, it seems he was still before most of the Gospels and especially acts.

        Huller, though, was looking at the possibility that WARS of the Jews, though, might have passed through at some stage the hands of the Christian Hegessipus (note the name very carefully). Josephan original, interpolated by a pretender with a variant name…with more interpolations added to bring about apostolic lists in the Hegessipus version.

        Josephan originals in the 90s C.E. Hegesipus around 147 C.E. Acts and Luke some time after that. I’m going with Luke definitely appearing AFTER the Marcionite Gospel of the Lord.

        Acts not being in Marcionite originals of the Gospel/Apostle. Swiping of a lot of detail from Josephus either directly or through Hegessipus. Paul in Acts not resembling much the one of the original in the Marcionite NT.

        Ipso facto, small wonder Paul’s shipwreck resembled the Josephan one?

        James references in Josephus? Possibly very debatable? Likewise even the Testimonium Flavium?

        And have many readers of Josephus ever realized he’s speaking of a Galilean rabbi half a dozen times, but NOT under the Jesus name? Heck, freak out for Christians to find the best possible historical source of any Galilean rabbi story was a founder of the Zealots and that his name was Judas.

        But if anyone wanted to create a man Jesus instead of a God/Angel-only one…probably the only good place to start.

        And then there’s Acts 5 and the reference to Judas the Galilean taken directly from Josephus.

        Does anyone appreciate the irony of that?

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  11. Ralph Ellis wrote about this in 1998, and noted 22 similarities between Saul and Josephus. He then wrote “King Jesus” and went into the similarities in more detail, and proved this conflation of characters.


  12. .
    >> What if Paul and Josephus were in the same ship?

    The point being made, is that they were actually the same person. And if this is so, then Josephus Flavius wrote much of the New Testament. And if this is so, then most of the events of the New Testament happened in the AD 50s and 60s, and not the AD 30s.

    And this, completely alters the narrative and import of the biblical story. It rather implies that Jesus was the leader of the Jewish Revolt, which is why Mark 15:7 says that Jesus was arrested for fomenting a revolt.

  13. This just proves the book Caesers messiah is not a theory, but fact.

    There are all kinds of these parallels all through Josephus and the gospels, these people(the Flavians and company) were trying to tell you this, but you won’t let them, they, the Flavians and the same group of Jews that Titus and Vespasian let survive out of Jerusalem, and set up at first in Gapna or however you spell it, made this s@#t up.

    Josephus and the famous Rabbi who supposedly shot an arrow into Vespasians camp, naming him, Vespasian, the next emperor, were probably really just among the group allowed to leave Rome, this group, then create a religion for compliant Jews, Rabbinic Judaism, and then also rework MESSIANIC JEWS, Christianity AND THE NEW tESTAMENT, and josephus works, which were all written in or around the same time.

    In the Vita, Jossephus gives a family tree in the opening of his Vita or Bios, as does matthew in the New Testament does, then he names his(Joshephus’) father as a matthayu or Matthew, and his brother as a Matthew, thus his surname could be Josephus Matthews, or Matthew the first book of the New Testament.

    In the Vita many learned Jews come to him Josephus, when he was 14, to concur with him on Torah, the same story is given in Luke with Jesus teaching the Learned Jews Torah at 12, I think it’s obvious, don’t you?.

  14. In the Vita many learned Jews come to him Josephus, when he was 14, to concur with him on Torah, the same story is given in Luke with Jesus teaching the Learned Jews Torah at 12, I think it’s obvious, don’t you?

    I don’t think it’s obvious at all. In fact the age difference is a dead giveaway that “Luke” was doing what authors of his day often did — emulate the works and characters of earlier writings. Josephus was a guru at 14? Ha, I’ll make Jesus just as smart at 12! Who’s the best now?

      1. I have trashed other insulting comments of yours. If you would care to actually take the time to offer evidence to support your views or that counter the scholarly ones I have used here, or even cite the scholars that present data that invalidates my points, then present it. But be prepared to engage in a serious critical discussion — one without insult or abuse but a serious engagement with actual evidence.

        The dating methods I prefer are those that are standard practice among other historians. It is dating of biblical texts that have long been riddled with invalid apologetic methods.

        1. Everyone knows Paul’s trip was before Josephus’. Paul’s between 58-61. Josephus around 63-64. Not to mention the numerous differences in the accounts. To suggest that it is literary borrowing is intellectually dishonest and factually incorrect. Along with the numerous scholars who have stated a strong case for the book of Acts to be early dated as far as 62, and later dated to 90’s. Pushing Acts or any biblically book to the 2nd century is well within the fringe that even most atheists don’t do. I have viewed many of your articles and though they attempt to push an appearance of knowledge, it is filled with inaccuracies.

          1. So you are unable to provide an evidence-based argument, and certainly unable to engage with alternative arguments without resorting to insult. “Everyone knows” is good enough for you. There is no need for you to waste your time here.

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