Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Richard Carrier summarizes an argument made by Steve Mason in his book Josephus and the New Testament that Luke knew of Josephus' Jewish War (79 CE) and Jewish Antiquities (94 CE). At it's core, the argument stems from a similar purpose behind the writings of Josephus and the Luke–Acts history buttressed by general and specific parallels between the authors.

Looking at the list of parallels, there don't seem to be any smoking guns. Any of them could arise because both men are telling the history of the same times and place. The strongest evidence seems to be the mentions of Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37; JW 2, JA 18), Theudas (Acts 5:36; JA 20), and "The Egyptian" (Acts 21:38; JW 2, JA 20). Mason makes a case for Luke misunderstanding the relevant history, which Josephus provides in greater detail.

But the heart of the argument is that both Josephus and Luke made parallels between Greek schools of philosophy and Jewish sects in order to make either Judaism or Christianity palatable to Romans. Was this a tactic both authors could reasonably be expected to innovate separately?

share|improve this question
2  
I have a very difficult time not committing the genetic fallacy whenever Carrier is referenced. –  Frank Luke Mar 15 '12 at 16:14
add comment

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Carrier's thesis1 is highly improbable. He overstates the similarities between Luke and Josephus, and ignores the possibility that the similarities that do exist could be the result of two historians writing as contemporaries.

Carrier makes several claims in his conclusion. I'll discuss a few of them:

  • Luke-Acts was written in the late 1st or early 2nd century
  • Luke "almost certainly" knew the works of Josephus
  • Luke found his basic historical framework in Josephus and "cut-and-pasted" it into Luke-Acts
  • If Luke hadn't read Josephus, "an amazing series of coincidences remains in want of an explanation"

Was Luke-Acts written in the late first or early second century?

This claim is almost certainly true.

A) The dating of the synoptic gospels is too complex to discuss here, but Luke was likely the third gospel to be published. In his preface Luke says he knows of other gospels, and the word-for-word agreement (with occasional editing) between his and the other synoptics indicates that he likely had copies of them available when composing his own gospel.

B) The very earliest Christian writers after the New Testament era—Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp—quote the gospels frequently. But when they do, they always quote/paraphrase Matthew or Mark, or material found in multiple synoptic gospels. Papias, a bishop in Hierapolis in the early second century, is the earliest to name Mark and Matthew as the authors of these two gospels. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing around 180, names all four gospel writers.

So by the late 2nd century Luke's gospel had been circulated as far as France. By examining more evidence, it's possible to narrow the date further, but for the purposes of this question this is enough.

Did Luke know the works of Josephus?

It's hard to say. If Luke was written in the early 2nd century, it's possible he was familiar with Josephus. If Luke was written in the late 1st century, say between 80 and 100 AD, he would have been a contemporary of Josephus. He probably would not have had a copy of The Jewish War and certainly would not have had a copy of Antiquities of the Jews.

Did Luke cut and paste material from Josephus into Acts?

The ancient world had no copyright laws, so copying from another's work would not have had the negative connotations it has today. In fact, we can see examples of this by comparing Luke's gospel with Mark's. I've bolded word-for-word agreement within these passages, and italicized paraphrased material:

Mark 9:2-8 NRSV

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Luke 9:28-36 NRSV

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

It seems clear—and virtually all scholars today agree—that Luke knew the gospel of Mark, and used it as one of the sources he mentions in his prologue.

However, if we compare Acts with Josephus regarding other messianic claimants, the correlation just isn't the same. Again I've bolded word-for-word agreement and italicized paraphrases.

Jewish War 2

AND now Archelaus's part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of [life and] death put into his hands by Caesar. Under his administration it was that a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt, and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own, and was not at all like the rest of those their leaders.

Acts 5:34-37 NRSV

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 was 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.

Antiquities of the Jews 20

NOW it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he 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; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. 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 Fadus's government.

Acts 5:34-36 NRSV

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 was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared.

Jewish War 2

But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him.

Acts 21:37-38 NRSV

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 the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"

Antiquities of the Jews 20

Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.

Acts 21:37-38 NRSV

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 the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"

It's hard to make the case that Luke had read Josephus, after we've seen how Luke works with material that he is familiar with. While Carrier's claim can't be dismissed entirely, a connection between Luke and Josephus does not appear to be likely, and is definitely not "almost certain".

Are similarities between Luke-Acts and Josephus coincidence?

Despite the lack of word-for-word agreement between Luke and Josephus, some similarities do exist, including some not mentioned by Carrier. The Acts passage we looked at above portrays Rabbi Gamaliel, a Pharisee, in a good light. Josephus, in his autobiography speaks highly of a Pharisee, in fact none other than Simon son of Gamaliel.

This is not the only positive treatment of Pharisees in Luke's work. A number of times in Luke's gospel, Jesus is reported to have eaten at the homes of Pharisees (See 7:36 and 11:37). Both Matthew and Mark, in the parallel passages, go to great lengths to omit this information. Luke 13:31 some Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him.2

According to The image of the Judaeo-Christians in ancient Jewish and Christian literature by Doris Lambers-Petry:

Steve Mason has established that as distinct from the Jewish War, Josephus' later works display a clear sympathy for the Pharisees. A somewhat similar sympathy is found in Luke's works, in roughly the same period. Rather than give in to speculative theories of dependence, we must think of a common setting, which in view of the prominent patrons both authors mention in their dedications apparently had to do with influential circles in Rome. In this setting they both took care to portray the Pharisees and especially their influential representatives in a positive daylight.

If Luke and Josephus were contemporaries, they would have had access to the same sources, thus the appearance of the same characters should not be a surprise. Therefore Carrier is probably right that any similarities are not a coincidence. But the very different way the two authors treat these characters suggests that they were probably not familiar with each other's work.


1 Steve Mason begins his chapter on Josephus and Luke-Acts by acknowledging, regarding the notions that Luke borrowed from Josephus or that Josephus borrowed from Luke, "Neither position has much of a following today, because of the significant differences between the two works in their accounts of the same events." (Josephus and the New Testament, p. 251) But after reviewing the breadth of events mentioned in both Josephus and Luke, and noting that no other writings from the first century even come close to covering all these events, Mason concludes, "I find it easier to believe that Luke knew something of Josephus' work than that he independently arrived at these points of agreement. Nevertheless, further study may provide alternatives." (p. 293) Mason also concedes that the dating is a bit tricky, since most scholars consider Luke-Acts to have been written before Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews. In response Mason suggests, "Luke may have heard an earlier version or only a part of the work recited, perhaps in 90 or so." (p. 293) But even this pushes Luke to the very late end of the range considered by mainstream scholars today. Ultimately, Mason's conclusion exhibits a much greater uncertainty than Carrier's summary admits.

2 John's gospel, almost universally agreed to be the last written, also contains a positive story about a Pharisee, Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night for instruction. A fragment of John's gospel has been found which dates to about 125 AD, which virtually forces us to date the original in the first century. This adds support to the positive-mention-of-Pharisees-in-the-late-first-century hypothesis.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for the first footnote alone. (I just started reading, but that is enormously helpful to know!) –  Jon Ericson Mar 14 '12 at 15:40
add comment

Could they have innovated separately?

Certainly, but they didn't as "apolgias" were common in those days. Unbiased accounts of history are as much a myth then as today. They did not report just to report. History was written for a purpose. Luke tells us straight out in Luke and Acts that he is writing to show what Jesus began to do and teach and what happened after He rose. Josephus also writes with purposes. Contra Apion is a pro-Jewish polemic against an anti-semite named Apion. The very title tells us most of that. There is also The Life of Flavius Josephus where he attempts to reconcile himself to his fellow Jews who saw him as a traitor for being captured and adopted by a Roman (He ultimately failed in that endeavor).

Moreover, in the first volume of Antiquities, he gives us his reasons for writing. Notice that he is not writing just to write history.

Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government, as interpreted out of the Hebrew Scriptures.

When Josephus writes, he presents the history with a Greco-Roman flavor. The Song of the Sea, sung after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is mentioned only in passing when Josephus says Moses composed a song in hexameter (Ant 2:346), a Greek metric that a Hebrew would not have used. He likewise states that Abraham taught the Egyptians science that they taught the Greeks, and Josephus presents the priestly aristocracy as opposed to monarchy (an attitude which would appeal to the Romans).

Did Luke Use Jospehus

This questions relies almost entirely on Theudas and Judas the Galilean being mentioned in both works (Acts 5:36-37; Josephus Antiquities 20:97-99, 102). It also hinges on a second-century dating of Luke-Acts. If Luke is written earlier, say pre AD 64, then Luke could not have used Josephus.

There are other considerations before we discuss the date of Luke-Acts, however. Luke and Josephus do not report the same order of events and the datings of the uprisings are not the same. With such differences, some are concluding that these are not the same events or that one of the two authors is mistaken.

So if Luke used Josephus, then he changed the order of events because he did not trust Josephus on this point. If Luke does not trust Josephus on the order, why even use him as a source? Instead if one argues that Luke is in the wrong here, then one would have to show that such errors are common in Luke-Acts. However, Luke-Acts shows just the opposite. Whenever people in Luke-Acts can be established in history, Luke-Acts has them in the right place, at the right time, and with the right title. There are even times when the spelling of a person's name changes slightly depending on if the name was spoken by a Greek or a Jew (e.g. a Greek will call him “Simon” while a Jew will call him “Simeon”). Luke shows many times that he is a very meticulous writer.

Dating Luke-Acts Pre AD 64

But there is yet another obstacle for those who claim Luke uses Josephus. Why are there only a handful of similarities? If Luke had access to Antiquities 18 and 20, then it is reasonable to assume he had access to others. However, even though Luke and Josephus are covering the same time in history, they do not share many events. For instance, Josephus not only mentions the destruction of the Temple, but his account is the only eyewitness account of the tragedy we have (Wars of the Jews 5, 6, and 7). However, even though Luke places a high emphasis on Jerusalem and the Temple in his two-volume work, he leaves out the defining event of Judaism in the first century.

Second, Luke shows several Christians under persecution and giving the ultimate for their faith. However, he leaves out the persecution of Nero from 64-67 and the death of James by the Jewish authorities. Josephus mentions James in the "Testimonium Flavium," Antiquities 20:9.1

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:

Luke is familiar with James, indeed James plays a significant role at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. That Luke would have skipped James showing his faith in Christ to the death when he does show others doing so is unthinkable if Luke is written in the second century as the Josephus Dependency theory requires. Also, this comes from the same book of Josephus that Luke is supposed to have used for the minor event of a few rebel names. Yet he skips it for an important event such as the martyrdom of the brother of Jesus Christ.

In Acts, the two major Christian figures are Paul and Peter, who both gave their all for Christ, a fact which Luke leaves out. Acts ends with Paul preaching freely in Rome, there for an appeal to Ceasar. If the late date of Luke is accurate, this omission of martyrs is unthinkable. In the second century, the church held the martyrs in extremely high regard. For instance, the Epistle of Plycarp and the Letter of Ignatius both speak highly of martyrs. Luke does too, but only those who were killed before 64. In fact, Stephen (Acts 7) and James the Less (Acts 12) were killed in Jerusalem, the same place where James the Just was martyred. Even though Luke spends considerable time and details on Jerusalem and its church, he leaves out the very important event of James' death.

As Luke portrays events in Acts, Christianity is still tolerated by the Romans, relations that rapidly declined beginning in 64. Wayne Guthrie states “Luke is at pains to demonstrate the impartiality of the imperial officials regarding Christianity. In no case is it the Roman officials who persecute the Church...the cause of persecution against the Church is in every case the intrigues of the Jews” (p. 344; cf. also F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988p. 6; A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963, pp. 144-63, 172-89). In fact, Luke seems to feel that his work will take Christians from tolerated to accepted by the Empire.

Another factor against a late date is the amount of time Luke spends on the events of AD 58-60. As Stanley Horton points out, it is almost as if those events have just happened. Josephus, likewise, spends an large amount of time on events that were most recent. For instance, the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, which Josephus witnessed, covers three volumes of Wars of the Jews.

Along with other facts that could be mentioned, it is perhaps most surprising that Luke uses Hebrew idioms often and correctly. For a native Greek speaker, this is very unnatural. To construct and use correctly such a large number of idioms(1) is not only surprising but goes against Luke's goal of showing the universality of the Gospel. However, if Luke still had access to native speakers and eyewitness of the events of Luke and Acts such works perfectly. Given the average life span and the need for a healthy Jewish-Christianity flourishing in the Land for Luke to accomplish all the above, we conclude that Luke wrote Acts prior to AD 64.

[Much of the final section is summarized from Nunnally's Commentary on Acts.]


(1). in addition to Guthrie’s discussion about “primitive...theological language” such as “the Christ,” “the Servant of God,” and “the Son of Man” (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1970, p. 344), other Semitic elements also bear witness to the antiquity of Luke-Acts. Examples of this phenomenon include “overuse” of the connective kai (see discussions loc. cit. in the commentary below), “The Name” as a circumlocution for “God” (Acts 5:41), counting men only (4:4; 5:36), and “lay hands upon” (for “arrest/sieze,” 4:3 and 5:18). Other phrases reflect judeocentricity (“Men of Israel,” 2:22, 3:12, 5:35, 13:16; “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers,” 3:13, cf. v. 25; “people [of Israel],” 4:27, 12:4; “sons of Israel,” 5:21, 9:15, cf. 13:26; “Prince” [for “leader of Israel”], 5:31; “brethren and fathers,” 7:2; “to grant repentance to Israel,” 5:32). “The Righteous One” appears as a prophetic code-word for the messiah, 3:14, 7:52, cf. Jer. 23:5-6, 33:15, Isa. 53:11. Semitic syntax abounds, especially in the first fifteen chapters, such as Semitic doublets (“answered and said,” 8:24, 34, 37; 15:13; “arose and went,” 8:27; “opened his mouth and said/preached,” 8:35, 10:34, cf. Matt. 5:2; “arise and go” [or some form thereof], 8:26, 27; 9:6, 11, 18; 10:13, 23). Even simple ejaculations such as “Behold I (me)!” ([Dr. Wave Nunnally's] literal translation of 9:10, cf. Gen. 22:1, 7, 11; 27:1, 18; 31:11; 46:2; Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:4-8; 2 Sam. 1:7; Isa. 6:8; 52:6; 58:9) betray a Semitic underlayer. [Nunnally lists these in the Introduction to His Commentary on Acts, Global University Press. Available only through Global U.]

share|improve this answer
    
This is excellent information and well reasoned. I wonder if the first sentence ought to be: "Certainly, but they didn't as apolgias were common in those days." ? Now I have a tough call which answer to accept. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Mar 15 '12 at 16:01
    
I agree and have modified the opening sentence. –  Frank Luke Mar 15 '12 at 16:53
    
@Frank: If you date Luke-Acts pre-64, then what does that do to its relationship with the other synoptics? Mark makes a reference to the First Jewish-Roman War as a contemporary event ("let the reader understand" in Mark 13:14), which would place Mark sometime between 66 and 73. So was Luke the earliest gospel? Or do you understand Mark 13:14 differently? (If so, please take a shot at this question.) –  Bruce Alderman Mar 15 '12 at 20:36
    
@BruceAlderman, I'll have to look into my material on the dating of the other gospels. I was one of the research assistant for Nunnally when he wrote his commentary, so I know these arguments for Luke-Acts better than the others. I also place Matthew first of all (Matthean Priority) based on internal and external evidence. As to who of Mark or Luke wrote before the other, I will have to look into that. Could take a little time... –  Frank Luke Mar 16 '12 at 3:45
    
Fair enough. I don't want to hijack the comments, but I'd be interested in discussing more about early vs late dating, and which gospels relied on which. Would you be interested in discussing this in a chat room? (That goes for @Jon too.) –  Bruce Alderman Mar 16 '12 at 5:27
show 3 more comments

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.