|New Testament Parallels
to the Works of Josephus
Expulsion of the Jews from Rome:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew
named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with
his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.
Antiquities 18.3.5 81-84
Tiberius ... ordered the whole Jewish community to leave Rome. The
consuls drafted four thousand of these Jews for military service and
sent them to the island of Sardinia; but they penalized a good many of
them, who refused to serve for fear of breaking the Jewish law. Thus the
Jews were banished from the city for the wickedness of four men.
Josephus describes a (temporary) expulsion of Jews from Rome under
Emperor Tiberius, but not a later one under Claudius (reigned 41 to 54).
However, the Roman author Suetonius, writing several years after
Josephus, briefly mentions that Claudius expelled the Jews from the city
because of "continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus."
This is puzzling, as Claudius was a firm friend of the Jews, Josephus
emphasizes; in fact, he was a close friend since childhood of Agrippa I,
who assisted him in gaining the throne. Josephus' view of Claudius is
unrelievedly favorable. Does this mean that Josephus did not want to
mention this anti-Jewish action because of a bias toward Claudius? Or
does it mean the action was so small and irrelevant to the Jews as to be
neither worth mentioning nor able to have any effect on Josephus'
opinion of the emperor?
A modern analysis of all available
evidence is given in Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's Paul: A Critical Life
(1996). The most probable scenario we can construct, he determines, is
that the action of Claudius was small, and that he expelled from the
city only Jews who were not Roman citizens. Christian missionaries would
have been in this group; they may have been causing conflict with the
Jews of the city by their proselytizing. Murphy-O'Connor dates this
action to 41, but doubts that Luke is accurate in
associating it with Paul's arrival in Corinth.
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 four thousand of the sicarii out into the wilderness?"
Antiquities 20.8.6 169-172 (War
These deeds of the robbers filled the city with all sorts of impiety.
And now conjurers and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them
into the wilderness, and pretended that they would show them manifest
wonders and signs that would be performed by the providence of God. And
many that were persuaded suffered the pain of their folly, for Felix
brought them back and punished them.
At this time there came out of Egypt
to Jerusalem a man who said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude
of the common people to go along with him to the mountain called the
Mount of Olives, which lay a distance of five furlongs from the city. He
said that he would show them that at his command the walls of Jerusalem
would fall down, through which he promised that he would procure them an
entrance into the city.
Now when Felix was informed of this he
ordered his soldiers to take up their weapons, and with a great number
of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem he attacked the Egyptian and the
people that were with him. He slew four hundred of them and took two
hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped from the fight and did
not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make
war with the Romans.
The time Josephus describes is the latter 50s, which is consistent with
the quoted Acts incident; the latter is depicted as occurring in 57/58.
As in the case of Theudas, Jesus' followers are confused with the
deceivers who were seen as a threat to Rome. Josephus does not say that
the Egyptian was interested in revolt, but he sandwiches the account
between two descriptions of the rebels. On the other hand, Acts
explicitly states the Egyptian's followers were sicarii, the
knife-wielding terrorists that assassinated Roman sympathizers. It's
easy to speculate that this equation by the Romans of "popular leader =
mortal threat" had a strong influence on how Jesus and his followers
were treated by those in power.
Ananias the High Priest:
While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, "Brothers, up to
this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God." Then
the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on
Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with
some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported
their case against Paul to the governor.
Antiquities 20.5.2 103
Herod, king of Chalcis, now removed Josephus son of Camei from the high
priesthood and appointed Ananias son of Nedebeus as successor.
Ananias was appointed in 49 and was succeeded in 59 by Ishmael son of
Phabi. This dating accords with the account in Acts, which is set in the
time of Felix (52-59).
Ananias was very
wealthy and influential, and an ardent anti-revolutionary. He used all
his skill to keep the revolution in check; but he was killed at the
start of the war in 66 by Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean
(War 2.17.9 441).
The hostility of the high priest to
the Christians matches that described by Josephus when he describes the
death of James at the hand of the high priest Ananus (note the spelling;
this is not Ananius). It's a good possibility that Ananus learned from
the failure the priests had had with Paul, whom they also, according to
Acts, had desired to kill. Paul had been saved by a centurion who
brought him to the governor, Felix. In the case of James, Ananus waited
until there was no governor - Festus died in office - and while the
nation was temporarily without Roman authority he had the chance to
seize and kill James without interruption. But he did not get away with
it - the hasty action cost him the high priesthood when the new governor
Felix the Procurator, and his wife
Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was
Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ
Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming
judgment, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present;
when I have an opportunity, I will send for you." At the same time he
hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used
to send for him very often and converse with him.
Antiquities 20.7.1 137-144
Then Claudius sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to manage the affairs
of Judea. After completing the twelfth year of his reign, Claudius
granted to Agrippa the tetrarchy of Philip, and Batanea, and added to
them Trachonites with Abila, which had been the tetrarchy of Lysanius
After receiving this gift from the
emperor, Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus king of
Emesa, who had consented to be circumcised. ... And when Agrippa
had received these countries from the emperor, he gave his sister
Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of Emesa, upon his consent to be
circumcised. For Epiphanes, the son of king Antiochus, had refused to
marry her, and although he had promised her father to convert to the
Jewish religion he would not now fulfill his promise ... The marriage of
Drusilla to Azizus was not long afterward dissolved upon the following
occasion: While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla and
fell in love with her; for she exceeded all other women in beauty.
And so he sent to her one of his
friends, Atomus, a Jew from Cyprus who pretended to be a magician, who
endeavored to persuade her to leave her present husband and marry Felix.
He promised, that if she would not refuse, he would make her a very
happy [felix] woman. Accordingly she acted ill, and because she
desired to avoid the jealousy of her sister Berenice - for she was very
ill treated by her on account of her beauty - was prevailed upon to
transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix. She gave
birth to a son by him whom she named Agrippa. How this young man and his
wife perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in the days of Titus
Caesar, shall be described later.
Felix was procurator from 52 to 59/60. The first date is specified by
the passage cited here, the twelfth year of Claudius. The second date is
not given anywhere in Josephus (although he does tell us Felix's
governorship ended under Nero, who became emperor in 54). The latter
date is a speculation derived chiefly from the end of procuratorial
coins after 58.
During the time of Claudius,
Felix was well-behaved, but under Nero, like the other governors, he
bloomed into full corruption. Paul was arrested in 57 CE, near the end
of Felix's term in office, so the report that he wanted Paul to bribe
him agrees with Josephus' account, as does the implied criticism of
Felix for lacking "justice" and "self-control."
of Agrippa II, married Felix about 54, at the age of 16. We don't hear
anything else about her in Josephus after this.
Festus the Procurator:
After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and
since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left him [Paul] in
prison. Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up
from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders of
the Jews gave him a report against Paul.
Antiquities 20.8.9-10 182-186
When Porcius Festus was sent by Nero as successor to Felix, the leaders
of the Jewish community of Caesarea went up to Rome to accuse Felix ...
When Festus arrived in Judea, it happened that Judea was afflicted by
robbers, for all the villages were being set on fire and plundered by
them. And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who
were robbers, grew more numerous.
Festus was procurator from 59/60 to 62. The first date is deduced as
described in the discussion on Felix. The date of the end of Festus'
reign is more certain; he died in office and was replaced by Albinus,
who Josephus tells us interrogated the soothsayer Jesus at the Succoth
celebration four years before the war, i.e., in autumn 62 (War
Thus Acts gives
us one fairly firm date: Paul was brought before Festus in Jerusalem in
59/60, and not long afterward was sent to Rome to appeal to Nero. Since
we are also told Paul was two years in prison prior to Festus' arrival
we know he was arrested in 57/58; and we know from Acts 28.30 that he
spent two whole years in Rome, putting the end of Acts, and the New
Testament, at about 62.
While at the moment of Festus' arrival Acts depicts leaders of the Jews
concerned with accusing Paul to Felix in Caesarea, Josephus notes they
had more serious social concerns: justice for the misdeeds of Felix and
some control over the anarchy arising from the "robbers," many of whom,
such as the sicarii, were anti-Roman revolutionaries; there was
also ethnic rioting in Caesarea.
Agrippa II and Berenice:
After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Berenice arrived at
Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days,
Festus laid Paul's case before the king...
Paul said,..."King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you
believe." Agrippa said to Paul, "Are you so quickly persuading me to
become a Christian?"
Antiquities 20.7.3 145
Berenice lived a widow for a long time after the death of Herod [king of
Chalcis], who had been both her husband and her uncle. But when the
report circulated that she had sexual relations with her brother
[Agrippa II], she persuaded Poleme, the king of Cilicia, to be
circumcised and to marry her, supposing that in this way she would prove
those accusations about her to be false. Poleme was prevailed upon
chiefly on account of her riches. Yet this marriage did not endure long;
for Berenice left Poleme, so it is said, out of licentiousness. He
abandoned his marriage and the Jewish religion at the same time.
Herod, King of Chalcis, was the brother of Agrippa I, who was the father
of Berenice and Agrippa II. So this Herod was Berenice's uncle, and
eventually became her husband. He died in 43, when Berenice was 15.
After her brief second marriage, Berenice did not marry again. Her
brother Agrippa II never married. Neither of them had any children we
The brother and sister tried to keep
both Florus and the rebellion in check, but ultimately did not succeed;
they lost much in the war. But Agrippa continued to be recognized by the
Romans as king of his lands, as his coins attest.
Agrippa II was a
friend of Josephus, over time writing him sixty-two letters (Life
1.65 364). This forms a connection between Josephus and Paul at only one
degree of separation: we are certain Josephus knew Agrippa well, and we
also know that Paul discussed Christianity with Agrippa, if the Acts
report is accepted. It's quite possible, then, that Josephus knew of