Luke's Use of Josephus in Acts

The presumed connection between the book of Acts and the writings of Josephus has been the subject of debate for over 100 years. (‘This theory was maintained by F. C. Burkitt (The Gospel History and its Transmission, 1911, pp. 105–110), following the arguments of Krenkel’s Josephus and Lucas (1894).’, Guthrie, ‘New Testament Introduction’, p. 363 (4 Rev, Ed.) Dr. Richard Carrier is simply the latest to espouse the theory that Luke drew upon Josephus for many of the facts he places in the mouths of various of the "characters" in Acts.

    Several examples are the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:
 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
and in Acts 21 where Paul is mistaken for a particular Egyptian who had been a rebel and had escaped capture:
38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”
    In both cases Dr. Carrier notes the similarity with Josephus. In the first Josephus mentions both Judas and Theudas, but in a different order and context. His mention of Judas matches Gamaliel's reference. But Josephus puts Theudas after Judas in about 46 A.D. That would place the revolt after Gamaliel's mention of him. And it would make Acts a fictional history. Let's take a look at the facts.

Carrier:
"Almost every incident [of Judean history] that [Luke] mentions turns up somewhere in Josephus' narratives..." (quoted from Steve Mason)

Response:
I thought I would test that myself. I randomly turned to places in Acts to look for incidents from Judean history. Here's one: "Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus," (Acts 4:7). Not in Josephus.  In fact Josephus does not mention the church or Christians as such at all, yet we know that the church was active in Jerusalem from Paul's letters.

    Felix replaced Festus (Acts 24:27). Josephus and Acts agree.

    The lives of Festus in Judea and King Agrippa overlap: "A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus" (Acts 25:13). Josephus and Acts agree.

THE FACT IS THERE ARE FEW INCIDENTS FROM JUDEAN HISTORY IN ACTS. ON THE OTHER HAND THERE ARE PERHAPS HUNDREDS IN JOSEPHUS. JOSEPHUS WAS TRYING TO TELL A COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY AFTER ALL. IS IT A SURPRISE THAT ACTS INCLUDES SOME OF THOSE INCIDENTS?

Carrier:
    Luke has Theudas revolting before Judas (the Galilean) who is said to have revolted at about the time of the census (presumably the Quirinius census).

    The Judas revolt is mentioned multiple times by Josephus and was associated with the Quirinius taxation of 6 A.D. [Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.4-6; 7-9; 23.] Josephus refers several times to Judas as the Galilean. So that part is accurate in Acts 5:37.

    Carrier's critique is that Josephus places the Theudas revolt in about 46 A.D. (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98) The question is whether the mention of Theudas in  Acts by the Jewish rabbi Gamalial is the same Theudas that Josephus mentions. Carrier assumes he is. But the name is a common name, and Josephus does not name all the rebels. In fact, he implies there were many others.

Response:

THERE IS NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION IN ACTS AND JOSEPHUS TO IDENTIFY THEM AS THE SAME MEN. TO MAKE SUCH AN UNCERTAIN  REFERENCE THE REASON FOR REJECTING ACTS AS ACCURATE IS SPECULATION AND NOT PARTICULARLY GOOD HISTORY.

    Carrier remarks that Luke in Acts has Theudas and Judas in the same order as Josephus, even though this is in reverse order historically. But if Luke lifted these names from Josephus, he was particularly inept. It is clear from reading Josephus what the order was and that there was a considerable time between them. In addition, a reader of Josephus who was reasonably acquainted with the chronology of the history he was relating would know that having Gamaliel reference Theudas would be anachronistic. Luke had no need to use both names if they were not actually Gamaliel's words. Why would he do so?

    It would make more sense to accept Gamaliel's words as accurate and that the Theudas he mentioned is a different Theudas.

   Gamaliel. Acts indicates that Gamaliel was present when the Apostles were detailed by the temple guards and were called to answer to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5). In this narrative Luke describes Gamaliel as "a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.'" And the Sanhedrin did as Gamaliel said. That vignette of Gamaliel fits well with Josephus' description of Gamaliel as a highly respected rabbi and to his description in other Jewish literature.

   Gamaliel also persuaded the Sanhedrin to be tolerant of these followers of Jesus. That too fits his description in Josephus as being a lenient man.
LUKE IS HISTORICALLY ACCURATE WHEN HE DESCRIBES PEOPLE.

Response:
   Luke's characterization of Gamaliel in Acts is realistic though Josephus does not include this particular incident.

Carrier:
    Acts and Josephus agree on the detail of Herod Agrippa I wearing a "fabulous robe."

Response:
    Josephus and Acts agree, but Acts adds many details Josephus does not.

    Josephus:   "On the second day of the festival, Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful contexture, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment was illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it. It shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him. At that moment, his flatterers cried out [...] 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.'  (Jewish Antiquities 19.8.2.343-350)

     Acts 12: 21 "On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died."

    Acts puts this story into the context of Herod's imprisonment of Peter and his animosity toward the Christians. It therefore, fits the flow of the narrative.  and then the accolades of the crowd in calling Herod a god. It fits the flow of the Acts narrative.

     Acts also includes details of the servant of Herod Blastus and the people of Tyre and Sidon's request for an audience with Herod. Josephus does not. These details, which are not particularly essential to the narrative give the impression that Luke is relating real history which in this case did not come from Josephus.

    The mention of the royal robe in Acts is a trivial detail, but expected when the king assumes a royal duty, as he was doing in both Josephus and Acts. On the other hand, Josephus describes the robe in great detail.

THE DIFFERENCES IN THIS INCIDENT ARE FAR MORE TELLING THAN THE SIMILARITIES. THE EVIDENCE STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT LUKE DID NOT RELY ON JOSEPHUS FOR THIS STORY.


Carrier:

Luke's use of the word σικαρίων (sicarii) in Acts 21:28 copies Josephus in using an unusual and Latin name for assassins.

Response:
In the mouth of a Roman commander, a Latin term would not be a surprise. The term sicarii also emerges as a word for an organized group of assassins at about the same time. The commander would have been expected to use the term. 

THERE IS NO NECESSARY CONNECTION  BETWEEN ACTS AND JOSEPHUS HERE.

Carrier:
    Carrier remarks upon Lukes use of the term "the Egyptian" for the leader of a group of rebels,  the same as Josephus used regarding the same event.

Response:
    "The Egyptian" is mentioned by Josephus in two places without a name.  A.J. 20.169-172 and B.J. 2.261-263. This Egyptian appears in Josephus at the time of Felix and places him in the same time frame as the mention of the Egyptian in Acts. 

THE FACT THAT JOSEPHUS DOES NOT NAME THE EGYPTIAN WHEN HE MENTIONS MANY OTHERS BY NAME SUGGESTS THAT HIS NAME MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN KNOWN. THAT WOULD EXPLAIN WHY THE ROMAN COMMANDER USED THE SAME TERM. WE HAVE NO WAY TO CHECK ON WHETHER THE EGYPTIAN'S NAME WAS KNOWN BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER HISTORY THAT INCLUDES THIS INCIDENT.

Carrier:
    Carrier remarks on the similarity between Luke's description of the Pharisees and Josephus', "the most precise school." Acts and Josephus are the only places this description is found. 

Response:
    Acts does use the same word as Josephus (in different forms) but what other word would describe the Pharisees? It is not a technical term, and Josephus uses it in several places simply descriptively. In addition, the desccrition would only be used by someone critical of the Pharisees. That describes Paul, who in Phil 3:5 refers to the Pharisees as what he used to be but has since repudiated. It describes Josephus as well. He blamed the Pharisees for the Jewish-Roman war. 

THE COINCIDENCE OF USE IN JOSEPHUS AND PAUL IS NOT SO MUCH A COINCIDENCE AS A COMMON AND ACCURATE WAY TO DESCRIBE THE PHARISEES. 

Carrier:
Luke includes Bernice and Drusilla in Acts assuming the reader knew the information about her in Josephus.

Response:
    
Why not assume that the reader knew about Bernice because Bernice was a well known notorious and yet intriguing character? But actually Luke's including her in Acts with her brother Agrippa was merely a trivial though accurate detail.  She simply was there with her brother. And that is not unexpected given that they were for some time near equals in position. There is no further implication detectable in Acts, except perhaps that she was interested in Paul because she was serious about her Jewish faith.

   Bernice was married multiple times. She was suspected of having an incestuous relationship with her brother Agrippa, and she was reputed to have had a relationship anticipating marriage to  Titus prior to his becoming emperor. She along with her brother Agrippa opposed the Jewish rebellion that led to the Jewish-Roman war. Yet she was also a serious Jewish believer who Josephus tells us was a Nazarite who prior to her marriage to a non-Jew Polemon II persuaded him to be circumcised. Why not assume, if assuming is all we can do, that Bernice was curious about this new "Way" which Paul preached.

   The same might well be true of Drusilla. Why not assume that, as Acts implies, Drusilla's presence with her husband Felix was due to her interest in Jewish affairs? Acts does include that one detail "telling" that she was a Jew.

Carrier:
   Luke throws Claudius into the story because he is mentioned in Josephus.

Response:
   Acts mentions Claudius two times. In each mention he is integral to the story. His mention is not gratuitous.

AT THIS POINT CARRIER IS REACHING FOR CONNECTIONS BETWEEN JOSEPHUS AND ACTS THAT ARE NOT THERE. BERNICE, DRUSILLA, AND CLAUDIUS ARE ALL THREE CORRECTLY PLACED CHRONOLOGICALLY, ACCURATELY DESCRIBED,  AND APPROPRIATE IN THE FLOW OF LUKE'S NARRATIVE. THEY FIT WITH LUKE'S DESCRIPTION AND IMPLY MOTIVATIONS THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN THE DECISIONS THAT WERE MADE REGARDING PAUL.

    We should note that there are many people mentioned in Acts who are not mentioned in Josephus. Claudius Lysias the commander of the garrison in Jerusalem is one (Acts 24:7). Note also proconsul on Cyprus, Lucius Sergius Paulus for which a stone mentioning him was found in 1887 (Acts 13:6,7).  Gallio (Lucius Junius) was proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12). An inscription mentioning him was found in 1905. The Delphi inscription  dates Gallio as proconsul to about 52 A.D.   Publius, the chief official of Malta, is mentioned in Acts 28. Publius also appears in the "we" section of Acts where it seems Luke was present. He would have known Publius by personal acquaintance.

   Other names are individuals who would not appear in most histories or on inscriptions because they were ordinary men and women. Specific names lend credibility to the historicity of Acts and the dates that can be identified with these men provide dates for the travels of Paul in Acts. In some cases, if Luke were writing after 93 A.D. as Carrier calculates given the date of Josephus, Luke's knowledge of the men and dates that would sync with Paul's life would be surprising. 

Summary:
    So far Carrier's connections between Luke and Josephus are much ado about nothing. He, of course, has much more to say about Acts related to his theory that Acts is historical fiction, and I will add analysis to this page as time allows. But so far I am not impressed by his comparison of Acts and Josephus. Both Luke and Josephus are relating incidents in a common history. The agreement of Josephus and Acts is not remarkable. The one place of disagreement, Theudas and his placement before Judas chronologically, is the only question that is unanswered. But Carrier's suggestion that Luke "cribbed" from Josephus here assumes both that there is no other possible Theudas and that Luke misread Josephus. Both of those assumptions are merely that, assumptions, though they reveal how quickly Dr. Carrier jumps to assumptions without adequate evidence.

   I should add that many have undertaken to respond to the theory of the fictional Acts.  This is a detailed response to Carrier Luke and Josephus