Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

Post-70 View: 7 Key Points

 by Sean D. Harmon 


Four foundational arguments 

The essential premises in support of a post-70 CE date for the gospels are as follows:

A) Authorship: It is presumed that the gospels were not written by the authors ascribed to them. And since they were not written by the ascribed authors, they must have been written well after the apostles they are ascribed to were no longer present because:


  1. The gospels are assumed to contain fiction. Had they been written pre-70, chances are certain they would have either been written by an apostle or, at the very least, known to the apostles when they were circulating at the time, thus any untruths would have been scrutinized and most likely condemned by the apostles themselves; therefore, they must have been written after the ascribed apostles were not around to contest this fiction, which would have been most plausible at a time well after 70 CE.
  2. Since they were not written by the ascribed apostles, the church collectively accepted them as apostolic on an erroneous basis; and the fact the church accepted them as apostolic on an erroneous basis means that they must have been falsely passed off as apostolic writings done by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at some point during their conception and public circulation. Had this occurred pre-70, this obviously would have been contested by the apostles themselves had they not had any hand in writing it themselves.


Not only is the blatant circular reasoning and presupposition here all too obvious, but the apostolic authorship issue actually remains highly questionable in and of itself, which I discussed in a previous article (here: Meet the Ghost Writers). Thus, based on the scant evidence we have and can use to assess the subject of authorship, an argument in favor of apostolic authorship can just as easily contest this premise.


B) Religious development: The theology and dogma in the gospels is much too advanced to something created and thought up by a pre-70 CE band of Galilean Jews, thus must have developed for at least a few decades as the church evolved around advanced organized theology and liturgy.


C) Argument from silence: The New Testament epistles (or letters), particularly Paul's letters, do not mention or reference anything specifically from the gospels -- events or quotes thereof -- nor do they seem to even acknowledge these written works existed. Surely someone, such as Paul, would have directly referenced content from the gospels had they existed during that time.


D) Vaticinium ex eventu: There are arguably instances in the gospels, particularly the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that clearly show the authors had prior knowledge of the 70 CE Jewish-Roman war and the fall of the Jewish Temple, particularly the gospel of Luke -- or vaticinium ex eventu (prophecy after the event).


Basically, from what I've seen, these are the primary foundational arguments of a post-70 gospel date view. I'll tackle most of these topics in other articles. First, what I want to focus on now are the additives or fillers that dress up these four foundational premises. I'll list these points from weakest to strongest, which consist of:


  1. The gospel according to Markan priority - Mark came first in the gospel order; Mark dates after 70 CE, therefore all the others logically followed this course of order.
  2. The parousia comfort zone - Christians had no need to write literature in the first few decades of the movement before 70 CE since they at first were expecting Jesus' imminent return.
  3. Matthew's little secret - there's a hint in Matthew's gospel that gives away the date of his work.
  4. The fathers know best - Irenaeus declared that Mark wrote his gospel after Peter and Paul had died presumably either close to or after 70 CE.
  5. The ancient tales of Joe and Luke - Luke used Josephus (90 CE) as a reference for his own work, thus Luke's work must postdate Josephus' work.


1) The gospel according to Markan priority

The Markan priority hypothesis is often treated as unmovable orthodoxy, thus used to presuppose the date of all four gospels from the date of the source gospel. However, building other arguments on inconclusive theories, and shaky theories at that (discussed here: The Q Conundrum), can be a house of cards if the theories prove inaccurate or untrue. Basically the logic behind this is as follows:


  • Markan priority suggests that the second and third author (Mathew and Luke) copied from the first (Mark), which then deduces authorship doubt. That the authors had to use help from an external source (Mark) as a reference seems to cancel out the idea that they were written by the actual apostles that were ascribed to them -- in other words, why would the real apostles, the eyewitnesses to an actual events described in the gospels, need external help with the details of the events? Therefore, it follows that if they copied each other, hence were not the ascribed apostles that wrote them, they probably were not written until after the ascribed apostles had passed on presumably many decades after the recorded events (which ends in circular reasoning and brings us back to what we discussed above about authorship).
  • Since Mark is shorter than the other three, this apparently supports the view that the accounts of the historical Jesus started off simple and evolved into complex with embellished layers of legend and theology in each successive gospel as time went on -- or in typical evolution terms: shorter means earlier; less complex means first. And it's a whole lot easier and smoother to argue that only one legendary Christian tradition was formulated in Mark and the other gospel authors, copying him, merely expanded his accounts with their own embellished legends layered in along the way.
  • If Markan priority is used a priori, and since the consecutive order of New Testament books in the Markan priority scheme is Mark-Matthew-Luke/Acts-John, all one needs to do is argue that Mark is a post-70 CE work and they've killed five birds with just one stone.


These presupposed premises seem to once again echo circular reasoning. Not only did I make a strong case against Markan priority (in the link previously noted), or at the very least, exposed major problems with the theory that you'd think would shed extreme caution using the theory as a foundation for other arguments, but even if Markan priority is correct, this still doesn't dismiss the argument that they were pre-70 apostolic works.

There are plausible explanations for their interdependence even if they predate 70 CE, whether by eyewitnesses or not. We could easily imagine that the authors wanted to stay within a general common or fixed outline that was permissible within a controlled system of oral tradition, or they wanted to stay anchored to common tradition, or tradition easy to formulate from memory, hence keeping the written works similar assured this desire.

Even within a Markan priority scheme, one must still offer genuine and substantive support that Mark was a post-70 written work above and beyond just presupposing it within a post-70 context, which becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog.

2) The parousia comfort zone

The early Christians didn't think it necessary to preserve any written material until much later since they at first thought Jesus' return was imminent -- or the parousia (second coming). In other words, why bother putting it into writing when the blessed event was expected to be revealed to the world within our generation? Yes, we can reasonably argue that at least some of the early Christians may have been expecting Jesus' imminent return (though this has been up for debate), however, we could just as easily and quite logically argue the necessity of written sources for several reasons despite this:


  1. Since the church experienced opposition from the get-go, and since the new believers were such a diverse minority within a newly founded creed with no ancient background or record other than the Old Testament, they needed edification and a sense of scriptural identity and relevance.
  2. Since they existed in a world without telecommunications, may have believed the time was short, and since Christianity was purely an evangelistic movement (as ordered directly by their founder to "take his message to all nations"), circulating textual sources would have been a practical and efficient method of reaching broader audiences over extended periods of time, as the documents could have just been copied and redistributed over and over to communities that weren't as proficient in oral tradition.
  3. Just out of popular demand. Clement indicates that the Christians in Rome requested Mark to compile Peter's teachings into a written record,[2] and we could certainly imagine this was not unique only to Christians in Rome. 
  4. Most of the oral traditions taught by the apostles were undoubtedly in Aramaic, and being that the movement was rapidly spreading outside Aramaic speaking communities, more demands and requests would have been made to have the teachings translated into written Greek.
  5. The apostles were the authoritative figures in the early Judaic movement, which was undoubtedly growing rapidly in the inner and outer Judean territories in the first few decades, thus textual sources would have kept the flow of tradition consistent over extended periods where apostles (who were also traveling evangelists) were absent, and especially since not every church in Judea and along the Mediterranean could have had its very own apostle to keep the traditions grounded.
  6. First century ancients had a habit of preserving written records regardless of the situation -- i.e. the residents of Qumran who stored numerous written records as a result of the Jewish-Roman war, which would become the Dead Sea Scrolls, despite the fact they themselves may have been anticipating an apocalyptic end as a result of the war.


Aside from these reasons, the problem with assuming when written material circulated for a specific reason is an argument that not only makes the silly assumption that all four gospel authors would think exactly alike, but all at the same time. Such an argument cannot be reasonably made because there is no way to determine that this was a decision made after 70 CE as opposed to maybe five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five years after the event (40-60 CE). There was no organized committee deciding when these works should have been written, thus no definitive time-line when this should have occurred -- "Uh oh, doesn't look like Jesus is coming any time soon, fellows, so Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, get to work!" Even if this was what influenced written material, it's obviously doubtful it happened as one big-bang decision at a specific time after 70 CE, as opposed to a possible gradual development much earlier on.

3) Matthew's little secret

There is a parable that is part of the hypothetical Q source (a tradition that Matthew and Luke independently drew from that is not found in Mark), which some argue was uniquely revised by Matthew to fit into the scope of the 70 CE Jewish-Roman war, obviously after the war had occurred. Though the two parables in Matthew and Luke are indeed similar, they differ pretty starkly. I'll include both for comparison…

 Matthew 22:1-14:

Luke 14:16-24:

"Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, "the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness;' in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.'"

"But He said to him, "A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'"

The obvious thing we notice is how more vindictive the parable is in Matthew than in Luke. Since the verse in red in Matthew's account is left out of Luke, the argument is that Matthew added this passage himself to fit the outcome of the 70 CE war and disguised it within Jesus' parable as a prophetic warning about the event. In other words, Matthew was looking in hindsight of the 70 CE war (much of Jerusalem was indeed burned as a result of the invasion of the Roman armies), saw the event as a resultant punishment of the Jews' rejection of Jesus (the king being God, and the slaves who were killed were the prior prophets that were sent, including Jesus himself), which then was followed by the Christian evangelistic message sent to the Gentiles (the king sending his slaves out to the "main highway"). Hence, Matthew, as an opportunist writing after the war, added the verse in red to make the parable look more prophetic and parallel with history.[3]

The Problems:

A) Whether we argue the gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew or not, there is very little doubt that the author himself was Jewish, writing to Jews, and not only is this is a scholarly consensus,[4] but the reason it's a scholarly consensus is because the overall framework and content of his gospel reflects a Jewish matrix throughout the entire work. Yet, it's hard to imagine that a Jew, even after the event, would disassociate himself from Jerusalem in a way to declare it as "their city" (red italics above), which was as much a part of a Jew as America is to a patriotic American, only, in the case of a first century Jew, on a much deeper religious level. We see in other places where Matthew consciously identified Jerusalem by using the idiom "Holy City" in order to clarify to his readers when he was specifically referring to Jerusalem (see Matthew 4:5, 27:53). If not the "holy city," at the very least, "the city" would be expected of a Jewish writer like Matthew relating this parable to Jerusalem, which suggests the writer was not targeting Jerusalem and that there is nothing exceptionally significant about this particular city.

Another issue is that Jewish and Gentile converts were being accepted into the Christian fold decades before the 70 CE war (see Acts 10:45, 13:42-48, 14:1, 14:27, not to mention indication of this from Paul's letters who was himself an "apostle to the Gentiles"). Therefore, if we consider the later guests as representing Gentiles then the parable was technically and historically inaccurate since Jewish and Gentile Christianity was a mixed bag before 70 CE. We would have to assume that Matthew was just being general with his editing and not concerned about demographic specifics, despite the fact his intent was to make it more prognosticative.

B) If we assume this is even about the war, it's essentially impossible to know for sure who revised it from the original source. The hypothetical Q source that supposedly connects both Matthew and Luke to common tradition outside of Mark (which is the assumed common source Matthew and Luke both copied) is considered by most scholars, even critics, as being the earliest written source and having a large percentage of authentic sayings of Jesus. In light of this hypothetical scenario, we could just as easily speculate that Matthew's account represents the original and Luke's version is the revision. In fact, it indeed appears to be the result of Luke's subtracting (as opposed to Matthew's adding) in order to make the parable more amiable and less hostile. The last passage in blue, which is also not in Luke, would have hardly served Matthew's purpose as an addition on his part if he was equating it to the 70 CE war. Point being, the Q source is purely hypothetical because it doesn't exist, thus there is no way of determining what was in the original and who did the adding or subtracting outside of speculation. However, since the content in blue doesn't look like it fits Matthew's supposed intent of the parable, and since Luke's version is less hostile, even if we assume a redaction occurred with a hypothetical source such as Q, a more likely supposition is that the text in both red and blue was a subtraction by Luke from the original source, not an addition by Matthew to the original source.

C) Though this is an allegory, it seems greatly misplaced in Christian theology that Matthew would have been okay with Jesus portrayed as a slave, and even more unusual that Jesus is put in the same general category as all the other slaves. Moreover, when considering how chronologically out of whack this parable is in relation to first century church history that I previously discussed, the parable actually reflects an eschatological scenario instead:


  • The slaves are Christian evangelists preparing the world for Jesus' second coming.
  • Persecution of those evangelists ensues (See Revelations 12:17, 13:7, 14:12-13)
  • This is followed by Jesus' second coming, which results in the burning of their cities.
  • The verses between the red and blue text is a reference to Christianity predominantly spreading to Gentiles
  • Then the white throne judgment follows (Revelations 20:11-15) described in the blue text.


Before anyone thinks to dismiss this, please note other parables that have Jesus' enemies being fried upon his return and that also result in "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (see Matthew 13:24-30, 13:36-43, 24:44-51, 25:31-41). It's also worth noting that Jesus not only portrays himself as a king in his other parables that obviously pertain to him and is a title we would expect him to use, but he is indeed described as the ultimate king, who, along with the armies of heaven, destroys the armies of the world that rise against him at his second coming (see Revelations 19:11-21).

Moreover, the term "wedding feast" traditionally represented the final gathering of the church and Jesus together during his second coming in other areas of the New Testament. In fact, the overall Christian church -- or "Christian body" -- is usually portrayed as the bride and Jesus as the bridegroom (see Mark 2:19-20; Matthew 25:10-13; John 3:29; Revelation 19:7-9) who will both finally become a union in the end times. Also, notice Matthew's last passage in blue, which is a dead giveaway, unmistakably a final judgment. Therefore, the sequence works much more consistently as a future eschatological event which better reflects the intent of the parable, and this further bolsters B or that Luke did the supposed editing instead of Matthew.

D) Let's compare this parable with another similar parable that is actually found in all three gospels: Mark (12:1-9), Luke (20:9-16) and Matthew. We'll quote Matthew…


Matthew 21:33-43 "'Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?' They said to Him, 'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons'… Jesus said to them… 'Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.'"

The analogy of this second parable is much more concise:


  • The landowner is God who sends his prophets (his slaves)
  • into Jerusalem (walled-in vineyard)
  • The Jews (the vine-growers)
  • become infuriated with the messages and consecutively kill the prophets (the landowner's slaves)
  • God then sends Jesus (his son) expecting them to respect him more
  • But they throw him out of the vineyard and kill him as well (crucified outside the city)
  • Hence, God destroys them and gives the vineyard to other vine-growers (the Gentiles).


This parable is virtually verbatim in Matthew, Mark and Luke with absolutely no revision to it at all with the exception of the last sentence (in bold) found only in Matthew and was merely an auxiliary sentence used to clarify the parable. There's nothing here about the landowner sending his armies to burn down their city; or better yet, sending them into the walled-in vineyard (walls around Jerusalem) to kill the vine-growers (the Jews), destroy the tower (the Temple?) and burn up the vineyard (Jerusalem).

This is odd since we are led to believe that Matthew, supposedly looking back at the 70 CE event, was an opportunist who revised parables to fit that event, and yet this parable represents things before, during and after the war much more concisely and accurately than the previous one does. Why would we assume that the owner would burn up his own vineyard? We could also ask why the owner would send his own son after they had killed all his slaves. Parables and allegories weren't meant to be analyzed through the scope of literalism but express a memorable message, or in this case, illustrate a historical similarity. So, to summarize what we've shown about Matthew's so-called revision is that:


  1. It was not only demographically inaccurate, but an unlikely way a Jewish writer would have characterized his religious homeland, which also wasn't consistent he addressed Jerusalem in other areas of the gospel of Matthew.
  2. Not only is a supposed redaction in and of itself based on a pure hypothetical, a source that doesn't exist and that Matthew and Luke presumably shared, but has absolutely no definitive proof to support who revised it from the original; however, if indeed redacted, it appears more likely a subtraction by Luke than an addition by Matthew.
  3. It was probably a reflection of an eschatological event rather than reflecting events of the war.
  4. There is further reasonable doubt that is cast on Matthew as the opportunist revisionist since he passed up revising sayings that were much more indicative of the 70 CE war. 


There is obviously nothing here of definitive substance that can even remotely support a post-70 CE argument.

4) The fathers know best 

The church father Irenaeus makes a statement in the second century that seems to put the whole pre-70 CE argument into a tailspin. Here's his statement…


"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia."[5]

Peter and Paul were martyred in the 60s CE (this tradition is pretty solid and few scholars disagree). However, how convenient it is that post-70 proponents cherry-pick the sentence in bold, and I've actually seen them do it since this suggests that Mark wrote his gospel after Peter and Paul were killed (or after their "departure"), indicating the late 60s or after, yet they totally ignore everything else in this passage. As they should, since not only does Irenaeus confirm that the gospels were written by the ascribed apostles, but Irenaeus also implies that Matthew wrote his gospel before Mark, when Peter and Paul were still alive, not only suggesting a pre-70 date, but obviously throwing a wrench into the Markan priority machine theory that most skeptics and critics treat as gospel itself. A classic case of wanting your cake and eating it too.

However, it remains unclear not only whether Irenaeus' words "hand down" meant Mark actually wrote his gospel during that time, but if the word "departure" was actually a euphemism for death as opposed to Peter and Paul leaving Rome and preaching somewhere else. Thus, there are obviously two words that are in dispute here. There has been no shortage of scholarly debates over Irenaeus' word "departure," Whether it was a euphemism for death or a literal departure out a place, but what is perfectly clear is that it indeed remains unclear, thus uncertain one way or the other.

"Handed down" is even more inconclusive, which could have meant that Mark actually wrote his gospel after Peter's departure (assuming "departure" meant death), or that he had already written it but decided to "go public" with it (handed down) after Peter's departure, sort of like a memorial to the whole church in honor of Peter's death. Or it could have meant that Mark wrote his gospel after Peter "departed" Rome and traveled somewhere else. Any view we hold is based on pure speculation of the true nature of these words.

However, another problem is that Irenaeus' statement seems to both confer and conflict the statement of another church father, Clement of Alexandria, who lived within the same era…

"Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first (most likely Matthew). The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it."[6]

Jerome quotes this from Clement also.[7] Clement's account suggests a completely independent source from Irenaeus, and though he agrees with Irenaeus about Matthew being drafted first, he indicates that after Mark had completed his gospel, Peter was still alive. When Peter heard it was composed, he was indifferent about it's production. Since there seems to be a conflict here, we have a few options:


  1. Both Clement and Irenaeus were right, yet one or both of Irenaeus' words "hand down" and/or "departure" did not mean "written" and/or "death."
  2. Clement was wrong. 
  3. Irenaeus was wrong.
  4. They were both wrong.


If #4 is correct, then any confirmation from the fathers about the works one way or the other is null and void, including this information being used in support of a post-70 date. Personally, if I only had the option of just #2 or #3, I would have to give #2 a bit more consideration based on the fact that Irenaeus' choice of words is inconclusive. All-in-all, the entire matter is inconclusive. 

Moreover, if we reject Clement's statement and cling to Irenaeus for support of a post-70 CE date of Mark, within a post-70 context we are still in a bind here because we can't have it both ways. If we are to play fast and loose with the fathers this way, there's no reason not to also accept the other things Irenaeus said, that all four gospels were written by the apostles ascribed to them (including John!), that Matthew was written pre-70, and that his gospel was written first in the canonical gospel order (which, by the way, is also agreed to by all the early church fathers).   

5) The ancient tales of Joe and Luke

By far the most noteworthy post-70 argument (at least for Luke-Acts) I've seen is the suggestion that Luke used some of Josephus' works as a source for first century events in and around Judea, particularly in his book Acts. Josephus' works were unquestionably latter first century works (90s CE), and since just about every scholar unanimously agrees that Luke-Acts was written by the same author, had he referenced Josephus, Acts as well as the gospel of Luke would be flung well into the latter first century, possibly even the second century. This was one argument that actually impressed me at first glance and thought that this indeed would be the most significant evidence, if not the evidence, to substantiate a post-70 argument for the gospel of Luke-Acts. Indeed, I dug deep and actually carefully examined the works of Josephus myself directly. It's certainly not a new idea but was elaborated by the historian Steve Mason,[8] and expounded on by notable skeptic Richard Carrier[9].

It should be noted, however, that though Josephus is unquestionably the primary source about first century Jewish history that modern historians reference today, he has sometimes been accused by quite a few of these historians for his sloppiness, inaccuracy, exaggeration of historical events, and even a possible bias bent towards Roman opinion in order to shine a more favorable light on Judaism.[10] Since this would suggest that he isn't always the most reliable source to use as a fixed measuring rod by which to judge other ancient historians and must be used cautiously, in most cases, this is clearly not the methodology used against Luke, thus Josephus is automatically given the benefit of the doubt in each and every case.

What also sent up red flags for me personally right out the gate is the implication that Josephus was the only written source of historical information about first century Judea that Luke could have referenced. This is obviously something we really have no way of gauging the accuracy of, though it's almost certainly a gross fallacy. Just from the references of ancient sources by many ancient writers that we don't have, we've obviously lost a great deal of works from that era, and based on a series of historical tragedies (i.e. the burning of the Alexandrian library for example), I would venture and guess anywhere from 50-80% material has been lost.

Then there is the argument that the two could have only been gathering information from a third external written source. This shows a type of logic that is very odd to me. Luke and Josephus were obviously recording significant facts during this time, as well as key political players whose exploits and actions in the region of Judea would have had a significant effect on both Jewish and Christian culture, society, and history. Much of what they wrote about would presumably have been as common to any contemporary Jew living in that region, just as current local and even international historical and political events are as pertinent to us today. It seems that the Luke/Josephus proponents assume that ancient writers lived in historical vacuums or isolated from events that would have been common knowledge to contemporaries back then, much like we have common knowledge of things even 200 years ago, such as general facts about Lincoln or the Revolutionary War, much more so events that occurred within just a generation or two ago. Both Josephus and Luke were writing about a lot of things that had occurred while they were alive, much of which would have occurred within a decade or two from their recordings. Strangely, Mason says...


"More than any other Gospel writer, Luke includes references to the non-Christian world of affairs. Almost every incident of this kind that he mentions turns up somewhere in Josephus' narratives."[11]


Should we find it odd that the content of two writers, writing generally in the same era about events that happened in the same time period in some of the same locations would at times parallel? Other than Pliny the Younger (a scarcity of his work that has survived), Philo (whose main interest was mostly Jewish philosophy and only focused on specific areas and time periods of history), and Eusebius (who often quotes others, including Acts and Josephus), Josephus and Luke are probably the only primary historians that have survived today who show any real interest in detailing general events in relation to Jews in Judea, particularly between the years 40-60 CE. So, naturally, we might not only expect historical parallels and similarities to occur between the two, even of the "coincidental" nature, but also expect the absence of these parallels in other historical ancient works.


Coincidental parallels?

Basically the Luke/Josephus connection is based on these supposed coincidental parallels. There are a couple of "major" ones that Mason spends a great deal of time analyzing, mixed in with mostly stretched, at best, assumptions of a coincidence; assumptions that are about as ridiculous as picking two authors who wrote about Germany during WWII and finding similarities and coincidental parallels in both then accusing one of plagiarism. For example, Luke and Josephus mention a notorious false prophet who led a revolt in Judea with an idiom "the Egyptian." Since no other historian used this idiom, the assumption is that Josephus made up this unusual idiom himself and Luke copied it from him (Acts 21:38).

Well, of course no other contemporary historian used this idiom probably because no other contemporary historian mentions the Egyptian, and would have had no reason to since, as I mentioned, the only two extant historians who were even interested in this type of detailed first century Judean history was Josephus and Luke. Moreover, mentioning the idiom "the Egyptian" is no more unusual than two contemporary German authors using the "Fuehrer" throughout their biographies in reference to Hitler, or two contemporaries writing about the history of San Francisco and using the idiom "Zodiac Killer" when describing events from the 60s. This would have been especially typical in the first century when names rarely had a surname and were often quite common, and a culture where one's religious identity, social group, or nationality was of particular importance, such as John the Baptist, James the Just, Jesus the Nazarene, Judas the Galilean, etc.

Josephus also mentions that there were "many" rebels and criminals during this era, so if the three characters mentioned by the two writers -- the Egyptian, Theudas and Judas the Galilean -- were the only three characters Josephus specifically mentioned out of the "many" rebels he didn't mention, then a coincidence might be justifiably argued here. However, it becomes even less impressive when we factor in the list of other infamous characters Josephus described that Luke does not, such as Eleazar son of Dineas; Sadduc the Pharisee; Simon son of Gioras; Manahem son of Judas; John of Gischala; Eleazar the arch-robber; James and Simon sons of Judas; the arch-robber Hezekias; the two thousand of Herod's veterans; Athrongeus, etc.



Judas the Galilean led a revolt long before Theudas appeared on the scene, approximately 50 years earlier. However, it is argued that Luke seems to have confused the order, placing Judas after Theudas. Josephus only mentioned Theudas one time, and in the same context, Josephus mentions the sons of Judas the Galilean, James and Simon, directly after he describes Theudas. Let's first compare the two:


Josephus: "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. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified."[12]


Luke: "But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. And he said to them, 'Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.'"(Acts 5:34-37)


We know from other areas of Josephus' work that Judas the Galilean came before Theudas. The argument is that Luke read the top passage from Josephus and confused the order by confusing Judas' sons, James and Simon, with Judas himself. And there have been some rather stretched suppositions proposed to explain why Luke, who was attentive to this type of historical detail, would have made such a blunder had he made this supposed error from reading Josephus' quote above, such as he was recalling Josephus' work from memory or he just needed a couple of names and was influenced by Josephus, thus haphazardly threw it down on papyrus that way.

However, as you can see in Luke's quote above, the person who actually mentioned Theudas and Judas in the Acts narrative was Gamaliel himself while he was giving a speech. So, the first problem here is that to assume Luke made the mistake, it must also be assumed that Luke made up Gamaliel's dialogue. To assume Luke merely made up the dialogue of another he was quoting is a clear case of begging the question, thus less likely than to just assume Gamaliel made the gaffe himself and Luke faithfully recorded the speech in spite of his error.

Secondly, even if we assume Luke invented Gamaliel's speech, the explanations of why Luke may have mixed up the order of the two directly from Josephus are still unconvincing. It's also silly to assume that Josephus was the only historical source reference Luke could have obtained this information. There's certainly no reason to assume Luke made the gaffe specifically from Josephus' work as opposed to just his own historical recollection, or perhaps he used the same common source Josephus used that contained the gaffe -- where one corrected it (Josephus) and the other didn't (Luke) -- or else Luke used a totally independent source that contained the gaffe. In other words, the idea that Luke got this misinformation from another source is just as plausible, in fact, less arbitrary than assuming Luke made the mistake specifically from Josephus because he couldn't tell the difference between Judas and his sons.

Thirdly, the two accounts aren't even similar. The only thing basically similar between Josephus' and Luke's description is the name Theudas. Luke's version does not mention that Theudas attempted the miracle of parting the Jordan river, but failed, in fact, doesn't even associate Theudas with the Jordan river at all, as does Josephus. Josephus doesn't mention how many people Theudas led, whereas Luke mentions he led 400 men. Josephus also indicates that Theudas "persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them," and that "this was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus's government," implying this must have had great political impact with a number of Jews. Yet, Luke's 400 men was hardly a great part of the populace of Judea and hard to believe that, out of the thousands of other uprisings Josephus mentioned, this would have had a great effect on the Jews as a whole. In the very next paragraph of Josephus' quote above, Josephus describes a different incident that ended up with 20,000 people slain on the day of Passover, which seems hardly the type of tumult 400 men could have surpassed or even equaled. Moreover, not only does Luke not mention Fadus who killed Theudas, but Luke states that "all who followed him were dispersed," in contrast to Josephus who states that Fadus' army "slew many of them, and took many of them captive."

By all accounts, not only is it obvious Luke got at least some of his information outside of Josephus, but since Josephus also pointed out on several occasions that there were many such rebels and impostors during this time,[13] ten thousand to be exact, it's likely that Luke and Josephus weren't even describing the same Theudas and that Luke's Theudas appeared long before Josephus' Theudas. The Greek name "Theudas" was a contraction of "Theodotus" and was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Jonathan, which was the name of the historical hero during the Maccabean rebellion in 161-143 BCE. Greek renditions of the name Jonathan or "Jonathon" appear in inscriptions as "Theudion," a variant of Theodotus.[14] Hebrew families frequently gave the names of past heroes to their sons, and one could imagine many boys during the time of Gamaliel with the Greek contraction of Jonathan (Theudas) the great Maccabean warrior, or even male rebels against Rome who used that name as an idiom or symbol of their cause. Thus, it certainly isn't implausible that the two descriptions of Theudas are different individuals and that Gamaliel was recalling an individual from his own historical experience.

In any event, once we analyze this argument in detail, the idea that Luke was influenced by Josephus in regards to Theudas is not just pure conjecture but the reasons used to explain why Luke supposedly mixed up the order directly from Josephus are unconvincing. Thus, coupled with the fact that Luke used descriptions that don't fit Josephus pretty much make a firm case for an independent source if we are to assume Gamaliel's speech was fiction. If Luke didn't make up the speech, which is a less suppositional approach, considering Gamaliel was at a ripe old age at the time he presumably made the speech, the explanation that requires no far-fetched conjecture is that Gamaliel himself made the goof and Luke faithfully recorded it without correcting the mistake. Or else, based on the cumulative information of both accounts, Josephus and Gamaliel weren't even talking about the same Theudas.

Strike one.


The census

Josephus mentions a census that may or may not have been the one Luke mentioned in both Acts (Acts 5:37) and his Nativity story (Luke 2:1-5), which Luke used as the catalyst for Joseph and Mary's trek to Bethlehem in order to register their ancestry (we're assuming the gospel census is even the same census as the one Luke mentions in Acts, which could have been a separate census, or a census within a series of census,' certainly not an impossibility). Richard Carrier actually uses the argument from silence. Since Luke is the only New Testament writer to mention this census, he insists that this further bolsters the argument that the census was unique to Luke within his Christian circle, so he must have gotten it from an external source, and since no other source we have mentions the census, it therefore must have been Josephus. This of course is under the silly implication that Christians were only capable of getting historical information from Josephus or other Christians. Matthew apparently had no interest how they got to Bethlehem because he cuts right from the Annunciation to the actual birth when they're already in Bethlehem. No other Christian writer prior to Josephus other than Luke mentions the birth story, thus had no reason to mention the census. The next Christian work written around the virgin birth is the Protevangelium of James,[15] at least a century or more later, which also mentions the census.

Though Matthew excludes the census, not only is it absurd to assume Luke did not know of a census outside of Josephus but that Matthew also would not have known about a historic census and then conclude that this is the reason Matthew excluded it. Moreover, there are many other elements of the Nativity in Luke that are also not found in Matthew or Josephus. The long descriptive story of John the Baptist' birth and his family found only in Luke is not found in either Matthew or Josephus even though John the Baptist is mentioned by all three. James, the brother of Christ, is another character mentioned by all three, yet Luke includes details about James in Acts that is also not found anywhere else, including Josephus (which I'll detail later).

Thus, since no other Christian writer had a reason to mention the census other than Matthew, who clearly also had no reason to mention it based on the context of his story which excluded details of how they got to Bethlehem, and since Luke obviously acquired independent sources about John the Baptist and his family that neither Josephus nor any other Christian source used, there's no reason to assume Luke got his information about the census exclusively from Josephus as opposed to independent sources where he got all his other extraneous information.

Josephus also used the census as a watershed for Judas the Galilean's uprising, thus connects the two, which is argued as being a unique combination only to Josephus.[16] This, they argue, makes the combination more of a coincidence with Luke's census in his book Acts that also connects the census with Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37). Now that we know there's nothing exceptional about the fact every other Christian author was silent about the census, this combination is the only thing left to bolster the idea Luke got the information from Josephus.

However, this is under yet another assumption that this census/Judas connection was unique only to Josephus and not common knowledge to other Judean citizens, or that these two events were of little historical significance, because if it was, then there is no reason others would not to have associated the census with the uprising any less than we would commonly associate Hitler with the Holocaust.

They base this once again on an argument from silence: no other historian correlates the census with Judas. But an argument from silence here is simply no good because, as I mentioned, Luke and Josephus are among the few ancient historians that have survived today that detail this type of Judean history. There's simply no reason to assume the census in Judea would not have been a catalytic event among Jews that would have sparked this type of major Jewish uprising and thus remembered in combination, particularly if Judas played a key role in the rebellion. Josephus indicates the Jews were willing to submit to the census until Judas passionately persuaded them otherwise. Though some have argued this was Josephus' attempt to maximize blame on one individual away from the Jewish population as a whole to appease his Roman readers, if Josephus is accurate here, this is more than enough proof both Judas and the census would not only have been a noteworthy event in Judean history, but would have been remembered in direct association.

The uprising and census would have had great historic relevance in and of themselves. Not only did the census demonstrate direct Gentile control over the Jews, but counting the populace was viewed by Jews as ownership and direct defiance against Yahweh, something they considered an act of Satan himself and something that greatly ticked God off when king David did it to his own people (1 Chronicles 21:1-14). Josephus also goes on to describe the movement led by Judas...  


"But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. And since this immovable resolution of theirs is well known to a great many, I shall speak no further about that matter; nor am I afraid that any thing I have said of them should be disbelieved, but rather fear, that what I have said is beneath the resolution they show when they undergo pain. And it was in Gessius Florus's time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans. And these are the sects of Jewish philosophy."




"Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite [Galilean], of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty; as if they could procure them happiness and security for what they possessed, and an assured enjoyment of a still greater good, which was that of the honor and glory they would thereby acquire for magnanimity. They also said that God would not otherwise be assisting to them, than upon their joining with one another in such councils as might be successful, and for their own advantage; and this especially, if they would set about great exploits, and not grow weary in executing the same; so men received what they said with pleasure, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height. All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another, and we lost our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great robberies and murder of our principal men."[17] 


Judas' philosophical movement that Josephus actually classified as a "fourth sect" along with the other three sect heavy-hitters of that era that he lists in the same context -- Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes -- and a movement that was apparently still influential even in the days of Gessius Florus (mid 60s CE) certainly would have had enormous significance in Judean history. He would have been as infamous as Hitler was in his time, and the census would have been as abominable to Jews as the Holocaust, thus all the more reason to remember such events in conjunction. Moreover, that "the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree" clearly shows us why Judas and his rebellion against such a census would be an event Judean citizens and authorities would have recalled in relation to each other, just as Josephus had remembered them. 

All these vital details seem oddly missing from Mason's thesis. And of course, once again, we have to assume Luke made up Gamaliel's speech because he's also the one who makes the association between the Judas rebellion and the census. Not only do we have to presuppose once again Luke made up the speech, but assume a coincidental combination of the two where there needs to be no coincidental nature assumed outside of two important concurring events of history.

Moreover, Gamaliel never directly connects Judas' uprising to the census in the same manner as Josephus. He simply stated it as a historical benchmark; indicating that Judas "rose up in the days of the taxing" (Acts 5:37). In light of all this information, to argue a coincidence between Luke's and Josephus' Judas/census combination would be analogous to arguing a coincidence between two historians writing about 20th century history in Europe and both combining Hitler to the Holocaust; one directly connecting Hitler to the cause of the Holocaust while the other mentioning the rise of Hitler during "the days of the Holocaust."

Believe it or not, but this is one of the so-called major parallels argued for the Luke/Josephus connection theory. Obviously this isn't saying much because it simply falters on too many weak assumptions and suppositions outside of a context of specific detail that is conveniently left out of the picture.

Strike two.


The Egyptian/sicarii connection

Josephus gives many descriptions of the sicarii ("dagger men"), a group of assassins that were a problem to Roman authority in Judea during this time, and in a few cases, describes them in the same context as the Egyptian. However, it isn't clear whether the Egyptian had any connection with the sicarii because Josephus does not ever directly indicate a connection in his work War of the Jews...


Josephus: "When the country was purged of these, there sprang up another sort of robbers in Jerusalem, which were called Sicarii, who slew men in the day time, and in the midst of the city; this they did chiefly at the festivals, when they mingled themselves among the multitude, and concealed daggers under their garments, with which they stabbed those that were their enemies; and when any fell down dead, the murderers became a part of those that had indignation against them; by which means they appeared persons of such reputation, that they could by no means be discovered. The first man who was slain by them was Jonathan the high priest, after whose death many were slain every day, while the fear men were in of being so served was more afflicting than the calamity itself; and while every body expected death every hour, as men do in war, so men were obliged to look before them, and to take notice of their enemies at a great distance; nor, if their friends were coming to them, durst they trust them any longer; but, in the midst of their suspicions and guarding of themselves, they were slain. Such was the celerity of the plotters against them, and so cunning was their contrivance."

There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty. But Felix thought this procedure was to be the beginning of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and footmen both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.

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. But Felix prevented his attempt, and met him with his Roman soldiers, while all the people assisted him in his attack upon them, insomuch that when it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away, with a few others, while the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive; but the rest of the multitude were dispersed every one to their own homes, and there concealed themselves."[18]


The reference in Acts seems to directly connect the Egyptian with the sicarii, which again occurs in a dialogue between Paul and a Roman captain where he questions Paul about being the Egyptian

Luke: "As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, 'May I say something to you?' And he said, 'Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?'" (Acts 21:37-38)

The Greek word Luke uses for "Assassins" is sikarios, hence the similarity with Josephus' sicarii. In one particular argument, Mason thinks this coincidence is "remarkable" because he claims Josephus made up the word himself. He supports this with yet another argument from silence, claiming that he does not find any such word in any other historical material.[19] I'm not sure if Mason is correct in his assessment here since I haven't checked this out myself, though knowing that Mr. Mason is not forthright in the details in other areas of his thesis (as I pointed out earlier), I would strongly be inclined to take this with a grain of salt and research it myself if I didn't think it was irrelevant.

Even if no other reference of the word exists in any other material, for someone to use that conclusion to support his premise, a conclusion based on material we happen to have today against material we may have lost is frankly a very strange leap to make. The sicarii carried short daggers concealed in their garments that they used for their dastardly deeds. Logically, it would not have been profound for an ancient to take the Roman Latin word sacae for "dagger," put a suffix at the end and use it to describe this particular group of "dagger-carrying-assassins." Moreover, Josephus' own statement debunks Mason's argument when Josephus confirms to us that this is in fact how they "got their denomination,"[20] indicating they were known by this name to others than just Josephus; certainly by Roman authorities.

All that is left is the so-called "inexplicable" connection Luke makes with the Egyptian and the sicarii. Since Josephus did not specifically indicate a connection between the sicarii and the Egyptian yet describes them in the same context, whereas the Roman captain in Luke's account directly connects them, the accusation against Luke here is that he once again got confused and perhaps from memory (reading Josephus at some point and recalling it later) jumbled the two groups into the same instance, erroneously placing the sicarii with the Egyptian, or that Luke just didn't care about making up historical fiction with ideas he picked up from Josephus.

First of all, Josephus never directly states that they were not connected, and I'm not sure what makes Mason so confident they were separate or that there were absolutely no sicarii involved in the Egyptian's rebellion -- by the way, a group that Josephus indicates were 30,000 men to Luke's 4,000 (confusing 30,000 with 4,000 would have taken quite the memory lapse). As you can see from the quote above, Josephus seems to mention the sicarii and the Egyptian in his work War separately in one particular instance, but he does in fact mention them in the same general context and isn't the only time he mentions the two groups. He also coincidentally mentions them in the same context again in his work Antiquities of the Jews (more on that in a bit), so whether they were associated with each or not is at best a gray area.

Josephus' description of the Egyptian is that of a false prophet whose aim was both political and military, to overtake Jerusalem by defeating the Roman garrison. Yet, not only did the sicarii have both political aims against Rome as well, but were also clearly involved in the 70 CE war against the Romans.[21] Therefore, since both parties were involved in Roman revolts and since both were Jewish adversaries of the Imperial Empire in the exact same era, where do we justifiably or even logically draw a definitive distinction here? Secondly, even assuming these two groups were entirely separate, who's to say that the common belief was not that these two groups worked in conjunction, whether they actually did or not? That's not a stretch of a common generalization for a society to make of criminal regimes that have the same aims and engage in the same military actions at the exact same time (up to the about 2009, most Americans typically equated every terrorist attack around the world with the group al-Qaeda).

Moreover, Luke was specifically quoting something the Roman captain said to Paul, so who's to say that the captain himself didn't conflate the two groups? Once again, we obviously must assume Luke made the dialogue up between Paul and the captain, therefore Luke made the mistake instead of those who were actually holding the conservation. Thus, to summarize this:


  1. We are to assume that the Egyptian and the sicarii were entirely separate, even though they were both Jewish led groups, had the same intent against Rome and whom both took part in open military rebellions against Rome in the same period.
  2. Assume that Josephus distinctly meant for the two groups, the sicarii and the Egyptian, to be entirely separate parties, based on the fact that he did not directly indicate they worked in conjunction, even though he described them in the same context more than once.
  3. Assume that Josephus was not himself incorrect in his assessment of #2
  4. Assume that no one else in the Roman Empire happened to make the mistake of conflating these two groups that had some of the same intents and existed in the same relative period other than Luke alone.
  5. Assume that Luke was making up the whole dialogue between Paul and the captain, therefore, Luke made the error himself and not the captain.
  6. Assume that the reason Luke made the error is because he wrote down the information he had recalled from Josephus strictly from memory (for some odd reason, he did not have this work offhand as he composed Acts) or he just didn't mind carelessly skewing history yet still desired to get accurate historical information from another credible source.


Need I say more? Yet, believe it or not, this is the second major parallel that is trumpeted in support of the Luke/Josephus connection. Now, I did that to show the absurd suppositions and assumptions that are required to support this argument, because upon my own research, there is little doubt that the sicarii were probably highly likely teamed up with the Egyptian. Mason suggests that the sicarii were not part of the Egyptian's rebellion with no reason to suggest this and every reason to the contrary based on both internal evidence and logic. Here is more of what Josephus says from his work Antiquities...


"Upon Festus's coming into Judea, it happened that Judea was afflicted by the robbers, while all the villages were set on fire, and plundered by them. And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles,] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon the villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire. So Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent destroyed both him that had deluded them, and those that were his followers also" (Ant. 20.8.10).[22]


Here's what we know and can deduce from the quote above...


  • Josephus clearly classified the sicarii as "robbers."
  • Josephus indicated that the robbers kept daggers concealed in their garments.
  • Josephus used sicarii and robbers interchangeably.


Therefore, there is little doubt here that sicarii were robbers and robbers were sicarii. Furthermore, just four verses prior to this description of the sicarii, Josephus describes both the sicarii/robbers and the Egyptian in the same context once again just as he had done previously in his work War...


"These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. 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" (Ant. 20.8.6).[23] 


In Antiquities, Josephus again not only mentions both in the same context just as he did in War, but this time actually sandwiches the rebellion of the Egyptian between the activities of the sicarii/robbers. He describes how these "robbers" led people into the wilderness with deceptive tactics, which was the same description he described of the Egyptian in the previous quote from War where it describes him leading people out of the wilderness to the Mount of Olives at the same time.

To dismiss some sort of connection between activities of the sicarii/robbers and the Egyptian's activities would be a serious stretch here because they coincidentally did the exact same thing at the exact same time. It is clear that either the Egyptian did in fact team up with the sicarii at some point and both engaged in the same activity or the sicarii teamed up with those who had identical motives as the Egyptian at the exact same time. Yet, even if the former is not the case, it's certainly very easy now to see how others would have easily confused and even conflated these situations as they occurred with or without the works of Josephus.

Again, if the sicarii/robbers were not in fact associated with the Egyptian at some point during these uprisings this would be incredible based on Josephus' identical descriptions and motives of both, as well as the fact he places the Egyptian in the same context as the sicarii both times he mentions them in both his two works. The only rebuttal to this? Once again, an argument from silence: Josephus apparently does not clearly spell out to us that they were both connected. Well, even if they were not connected, which seems unlikely, at the very least, the timing and identical nature of both groups shows us where society in general, including a Roman captain, would have easily described the two groups under the same breath.

Strike three.


The minor connections

Don't forget that on top of these slipshod assumptions and suppositions, and in some cases outright fallacy and fact misrepresentation, the belief that Luke was making up most of the accounts to support these arguments (particularly where it's convenient to assume this), including the dialogue of others is a necessity to further the argument. So, we can add question begging to the list of assumptions, suppositions, fallacies and misrepresentations.

The other minor parallels they argue are even weaker than the ones we just discussed, and sometimes they're just outright false. For example, they argue that Luke's use of the Greek word hairesis (Acts 5:17, 15:5, 26:5), meaning "sects" or "schools," was the same word haireseis that Josephus used and was unique only to Josephus.[24] Oh really?


1 Corinthians 11:19: "For there must also be factions [Greek word is hairesis] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you."

Galatians 5:20: "... idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [Greek word is hairesis]."

2 Peter 2:1: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies [Greek word is hairesis], even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves."


The first two quotes are from the letters of Paul, and since Paul and the author of the second Peter letter both used the Greek word hairesis, and whose works indisputably predate Josephus (Paul without a doubt), if anyone plagiarized here it was obviously Josephus. Of course, we would logically deduce here that it is unnecessary to suppose Josephus copied the word from Paul or the others, but that it was a common cultural word. The other so-called minor parallels similar to the above are just as false, suppositional, or just downright ridiculous and don't deserve space wasted in this already long article.

Oddly enough, Josephus also mentioned James "the brother of Christ."[25] It would seem rather strange that Josephus goes into great detail of James' martyrdom, which occurred in the early 60s, yet Luke would totally leave this incident out of his own work, particularly since James as the head of the early Jerusalem church played a prominent role in Luke's second work (see Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:18), in addition to the fact he documented martydoms of other apostles in his work. This not only implies that Acts was written before it ever happened, but further sheds doubt that Luke was influenced by Josephus. Of course, this is an argument from silence, but it is clearly inconsistent with patterns we would expect in relation to the theory. Not surprising, the Luke/Josephus proponents are dead silent about this issue. They wouldn't dare suppose Luke also lifted the character of James from Josephus -- despite the fact Luke and Josephus are the only writers of their time that detail anything about James -- since they would then have to explain James' strange martyrdom omission from Luke's work. Needless to say, we are once again led to the obvious conclusion that Luke got his history about James from a different source.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Wright claims that there are fifty persons mentioned in the gospel of Luke.[26] Thirty-two are common to Mark and Matthew, while only five of the remaining eighteen are found in Josephus, namely: Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, Lysanias, Quirinius, and Annas, which are historical figures that would have been known to anyone. I'm assuming Wright is referring to the gospel of Luke only, because he fails to include the names mentioned in Acts that are also mentioned by Josephus (such as the rebellious leaders previously discussed), yet he rightly points out that the numerous countries, cities and islands mentioned in Acts shows complete independence of Josephus, hence indicative of Luke's independent access to other various historical sources.

Wright also argues that Luke's preface bears a much closer resemblance to those of Greek medical writers than to that of Josephus, and though some denounce the fact that the author of Acts was a physician (mainly skeptics who argue against the author of Luke-Acts being Paul's companion, since Luke was called "the beloved physician" in Paul's Colossians letter), he was at least a highly educated person, once again, indicative to the fact he would have had access to other sources of historical material as well as a wide range of personal knowledge. Wright also suggests that some of the other minor parallels are familiar to material found in the Septuagint, which would have obviously been one of the common sources available to both Luke and Josephus.

It's very odd to assume that ancient writers, such as Luke, would have lived in a historical vacuum, completely isolated, unknowledgeable or unaware of both contemporary and recent history, and therefore needed a third written source for all this information, but this is forced upon us by this argument. Another charge is that Luke was just a fiction artist who pretended to be a historian, yet didn't care about fudging facts and figures or cared whether his audience knew he fudged facts and figures, in complete contrast to what he declared to his audience in the beginning of the first part of his written work (Luke 1:1-4). In any event, whether Wright's assessments are correct or not, I don't even need his argument to know that the Luke/Josephus connection is clearly a bogus one, as has been shown in this article.

One thing it certainly does prove, however, is how accurate Luke was with history; accurate enough to compel some to draw these conclusions, which seems to unfavorably counter the critics who ironically argue the opposite view about Luke's historical accuracy.

Click here for the pre-70 argument, or here to go home


Source References

1. Philip Francis Esler, The early Christian world, pp.751-752; 2000.

2. Clement, as quoted by Eusebius, Church History, book 6, chap. 14:5-6 (

3. Paul N. Tobin, Arguments for Early Dates of Gospel Composition: Brevity of Prophecies on Destruction of the Temple (

4. J. A. Overman, Matthew’s Gospel and Formative Judaism: The Social World of the Matthean Community; 1990.   

    A. J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community; 1994.

    D. C. Sim, The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community; 1998.   

    Daniel B. Wallace, Matthew: Introduction, Argument, and Outline: #3 Internal Evidence (

    Michael L. White, Who Was Matthew Writing For? (

    Marilyn Mellowes, The Gospel of Matthew (

    Papias , as quoted by Eusebius, Church History, book 3, chap. 39:16 (

    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chap. 1:1 (

    Jerome, On Illustrious Men, chap. 3 (

    Eusebius, ibid., book 3, chap. 24:6 (

    Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, book 6, chap. 17 (

    The Aramaic New Testament: A repository for scholarly work in the field of Aramaic Source Criticism (

5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chap. 1 (

6. Clement, as quoted by Eusebius, Church History, book 6, chap. 14:5-7 (

7. Jerome, Illustrious Men, chap. 8 (

8. Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament; 1992.

9. Richard Carrier, Luke and Josephus (

10. James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus, p.46; 2008.

      S. J. D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome, his Vita and Development as a Historian, p. 233; 1979.

      Magen Broshi, The Credibility of Josephus: On Josephus' Accuracy (

11. Mason, ibid., p.205.

12. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chap. 5:1-2 (

13. Josephus, Ant., book 17, chap. 10:4.

14. Paul W. Barnett, The birth of Christianity, pp.199-200; 2005.

15. The Protoevangelium of James, v. 17 (

16. Josephus, Ant., book 18, chap.1:1; book 20, chap. 5:2.

17. ibid., book 18, chap. 1:6; book 20, chap. 5:2.

18. Josephus, War, book 2, chap. 13:3-5.

19. Mason, p.212.

20. Josephus., Ant., book 20, chap. 8:10.

21. ibid., book 20, chap. 8:1-5, 10:1, and 11:1-2.

22. ibid., book 20, chap. 8:5-10.

23. ibid., book 20, chap. 8:6.

24. Tobin, Similarities in Unique Vocabulary.

25. Josephus, ibid., book 20, chap. 9.

26. Gospel of Saint Luke: Luke and Josephus (