|New Testament Parallels
to the Works of Josephus
Render Unto Caesar:
Mark 12.13-17 (Matthew 22.15-22, Luke 20.19-26)
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in
what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you
are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people
with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it
lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should
we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you
putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius
and let me see it." And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose
head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Jesus said
to them, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to
God the things that are God's." And they were utterly amazed at him.
War 2.8.1 118 (Antiquities 18.1.1 3)
Under his administration a certain Galilean named Judas prevailed with
his countrymen to revolt; and said they were cowards if they would
endure to pay a tax to the Romans and submit to mortal men as their
lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own that was not
at all like the others � For there are three philosophical sects among
the Jews ...
It was seen above that an important part of the political background in
Jesus' time was the Fourth Philosophy of Judas the Galilean. In the
present passage is the clearest indication that Jesus was seen by some
of his contemporaries as involved with that group. The originating tenet
of the Fourth Philosophy was that one should not pay taxes to Rome, as
this was interpreted as a turning away from God. When the people in the
cited passage ask Jesus if it is "lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or
not," they are referring to the Fourth Philosophy's reading of the Law
of Moses. The questioners, even if they were hostile to them, can't be
seen as setting a devious trap - they were trying to pin Jesus'
philosophy down by asking him his opinion on the central question of the
In his answer, Jesus clearly states he is not a
member of the Fourth Philosophy. Instead, he graphically advocates the
separation of church and state. This answer clearly was not what his
questioners expected. It is possible they did not believe him, and the
authorities continued to regard him as a revolutionary until he was
swept up during the arrests of rebels by Pilate.
James the Brother of Jesus:
Matthew 13.55 (Mark. 6.3)
Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are
not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
But I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother.
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, "My brothers, listen to me...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."
Antiquities 20. 9.1 199-203
The younger Ananus, who had been appointed to the high priesthood, was
rash in his temper and unusually daring. He followed the school of the
Sadducees, who are indeed more heartless than any of the other Jews, as
I have already explained, when they sit in judgment.
Possessed of such a character, Ananus thought
that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinas
was still on the way. And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin,
and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the one called
Christ, whose name was James, and certain others, and accusing them of
having transgressed the law delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the
inhabits of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who
were strict in observance of the law were offended at this. They
therefore secretly sent to King Agrippa urging him, for Ananus had not
even been correct in his first step, to order him to desist from any
further such actions. Certain of them even went to meet Albinus, who was
on his way from Alexandria, and informed him that Ananus had no
authority to convene the Sanhedrin without his consent. Convinced by
these words, Albinus angrily wrote to Ananus threatening to take
vengeance upon him. King Agrippa, because of Ananus' action, deposed him
from the high priesthood which he had held for three months and replaced
him with Jesus the son of Damnaeus. (Louis Feldman translation)
The death of James does not appear in the New Testament. The events
described by Josephus occurred about 62, which is just about when the
latest writing of the New Testament, the Book of Acts, comes to a close,
with Paul waiting in Rome for two years after arriving there in 60.
James is depicted in Acts as the leader, with
Peter, of the Jerusalem Christians after the death of Jesus, and shows
James as adhering to the full Jewish law while ruling that non-Jewish
Christians do not need to do the same.
Josephus' account is interesting in that it
shows the Sadducees as enemies of James and the Christians, to the
extent of resorting to summary execution to dispose of them. The
accusation against James is that he transgressed the law of Moses. But
he is defended by those "strict in the observance of the law," which is
a way Josephus often refers to the Pharisees. The dispute here thus
seems to be another of the Sadducee-Pharisee arguments, with James the
victim in the middle; Acts depicts Paul as being in the same spot three
years earlier (Acts 23.6-10).
Thus there was some question in the minds of
both Jews as well as Christians as to whether James completely supported
adherence to the law of Moses. It is interesting to see Pharisees
defending James, as some Pharisees are also shown, in the Acts passage
cited above, to belong to James' group of Christians. And in Acts 5.34,
Rabbi Gamaliel of the Pharisees similarly defends Peter and John.
Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this reference to
Jesus, just as they have the Testimonium Flavianum passage. But
the current consensus is that there is no indication this is a late
interpolation; if it is, it is an unusually subtle and skillful one. In
addition, the implied Sadducee-Pharisee factional battle and the vague
accusation of transgression of the law support the idea that whoever was
the subject of this passage played a role in the city similar to that of
James; thus the context supports the name identification.
It appears that Josephus was not in Jerusalem
at this time to witness the events. From his autobiography, he was most
likely on his way to Rome.
Theudas, and Judas the Galilean:
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 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. 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 God."
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 Samaritan
killed by Pontius Pilate. They all seemed to claim that Deuteronomy
18.15-22 refers to them.
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.
There is a famous discrepancy here between
Josephus and the quotation from Acts. The speech made by Gamaliel occurs
in the 30s, 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.
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
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 note taking 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
severe 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
in 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
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, 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
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
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
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
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
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
Caesarea. 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 was
Agrippa the First was the grandson of Herod I and Mariamne; his
father was Aristobulus. Josephus informs us he reigned from 37 to 44,
dates which are confirmed by many coins found 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 by pain.
A few lines after this section, Josephus tells us that Agrippa left
four children: three daughters, Berenice, aged 16, Mariamne,
aged 10, and Drusilla, aged 6; and a son, Agrippa II, aged 17. Three out
of these four are mentioned later in Acts.