2007-09-08

Dating the Book of Acts: 5, the late date reconsidered (4. Josephus)

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle (2006) pp. 14ff . . . . .

4. Influence of Josephus

Pervo writes that Luke would have used Josephus as a source quite differently from his other sources such as Mark, Q, Paul and the LXX. He did not quote Josephus or imitate his style. But there are good economic arguments for believing Luke used Josephus as a source and if so, that would mean that he must have written after 93-94 c.e.

Evidence for Luke’s use of Josephus (Pervo):

  1. Acts 5:36-37 refers to insurrectionists Theudas and Judas in incorrect historical order. Interestingly, Josephus also refers to them in reverse chronological order, despite being clearly aware that he was doing so. See chapter 5 paras 1 and 2 in Antiquities book 20. Josephus reversed their order for his own narrative reasons. It appears that Luke has recollected the order as he heard them from a reading of Josephus.
  2. Luke 2:2 introduces the census of Quirinius (historically 6 c.e.) as the “watershed”, the beginning of the new stage of Jewish and human history with the birth of Jesus, and is the only gospel author to do so. Josephus also wrote of this same census as the “watershed” of Jewish history, as marking the beginning of time of Jewish rebellion against Rome which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple. (See chapter 1 paragraph 1 references to “Cyrenius” (=Quirinius) in Antiquities 18, and resulting revolt begun by Judas.)

“In two cases, the prominence given to the Roman census of 6 ce and the order of Theudas-Judas, Luke happens to share with Josephus not simply historical data but the results of historical interpretation. In this case two is not a company; it is a crowd, too much of a good thing to refuse.” (Pervo p.159)

Other probably correlations between Josephus and Luke (Pervo):

  • Luke 3:1 historical reference to Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene in Antiquities 19, ch.5, para.1. The appearance of Lysanias here is something of an enigma. Neither he nor his jurisdiction plays any part in the story. But twice Lysanias is mentioned in Josephus and each time in association with Philip. Antiquities 18.237 and 20.138. (We know of know other sources Luke could have drawn on for this association. They may have existed, but until they surface then the possibility the name derives from Josephus must remain a good possibility.)
  • Acts 21:38 the mistaking of Paul for “the Egyptian prophet” Antiquities 20, ch.8, para.6.
  • Acts 22:3; 26:5 the characterization of the Pharisees as AKRIBHS (very strict), only elsewhere described as such by Josephus, e.g. Wars 1, ch.5, para.2.
  • Acts 24:24 the reference to Drusilla as the wife of Felix, Antiquities 20, ch.7, para.2.

(More detailed discussion of possible Josephan influences on the author of Luke-Acts can be found in Carrier‘s online article, Luke and Josephus.)

“Nearly every item of ‘modern’ history to which Luke refers can be found in Josephus. That may not be remarkable. Yet when Luke calls Jewish parties philosophical ‘sects,’ when he views the Census of 6 ce as a watershed event, when he introduces such characters as Judas, Theudas, ‘the Egyptian,’ and sicarii, it is appropriate to introduce the adjective ‘remarkable.'” (Pervo, p.198)

Josephus is clearly dated at 93/94 c.e. so we have good reasons for considering Luke-Acts to have been written later than this.


Next part (5) to summarize the use of Paul’s letters in Acts. Though Paul is said to have written in the mid first century, his letters are thought to have only been collated and widely distributed from the end of the first century. Hence the relevance of their possible influence in assigning a date to Acts.


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “Dating the Book of Acts: 5, the late date reconsidered (4. Josephus)”

  1. Pingback: Seduction and Relationships » Blog Archive » Comment on Dating the Book of Acts: 5, the late date reconsidered …
  2. There are at least some clues in the writings attributed to Josephus that original Antiquities was written first and that original War was written during the reign of Nero. To boot, I suggest that Josephus became one of the earliest ‘Christians’ or anointed ones, that is anointed by the Spirit, while living as a young man in Rome where he was raised. The earliest Christians knew nothing about Jesus.

  3. It doesn’t take too much stretch of the imagination to believe that the above commonalities were the product of folk who meddled with both Josephus’s original text and the original text of Luke. The Flavian historians were the kind of folk who ‘strained the truth beyond its limits’, that is according the exact words used by Brian W. Jones in his book Seutonius/Vepasian, page 35. So guess what they did they did to Josephus’s original writings? They even made our Josephus a Jewish general and a deserter and of course a Flavian. The story of Josephus’s surrender is about as naff as they come.

  4. My dating of original Acts would be pre 60 CE, the probable year that James travelled to Jerusalem from Rome, and two years before his death at the hands of Ananus. I see Acts as autobiographical written by James(Banus in Life), in Rome.

  5. The whole point about the dating of the Acts of the Apostles is that it was written backwards starting with the Last Supper in AD71 and ending with the shipwreck described in the early years of Josephus’s life, a truly astonishing literary achievement. This means that the decision by Berenice and Agrippa to send Paul to see Nero was fulfilled in Acts ch 18 where Gallio is clearly Nero.

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