Theudas came after Gamaliel

Posted on Sep.27, 2009. Filed in Acts. Average rating: 5.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Following Jesus’ death, Peter and the apostles were hauled before the Jewish council for preaching the gospel despite having been ordered not to. The council were minded to kill them, but a Pharisee named Gamaliel advised against this course. However, he can’t have made the speech to the council that Acts attributes to him.

Gamaliel appeals to the examples of two previous trouble-makers who perished, suggesting that if the message preached by Peter and the apostles is not of God then they would fail on their own, while if it is of God then they should be allowed to succeed:

“When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 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!’ [Acts 5:33-39a, NRSV]

One of Gamaliel’s examples is Theudas. We know from Josephus’s Antiquities that Theudas’s uprising took place during the time of the Procurator Fadus:

“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.” [Josephus, Antiquities, 20:97-99]

Fadus was procurator between 44 and 46 CE. However, Gamaliel made his speech to the Jewish council before the martyrdom of Stephen, ten years earlier circa 35 CE. The reference to Theudas is thus anachronistic; Gamaliel can’t possibly have said the words attributed to him.

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Says the Oxford Bible Commentary:

    “Either Luke has made a mistake … or Josephus has; or there was another, earlier Theudas.”

  2. 2

    N.B. This is obviously related to Theudas came after Judas, but I’ve kept them separate because some solutions to that problem (e.g. “Gamaliel got confused”) don’t answer this one.

  3. 3

    Because I view these issues as linked (this item is not an error at all, but proof that the other item is not an error either), I’ve left my longer comment on the other post That Errancy referenced in #2 above.

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