Thursday, 15 September 2016

On Luke's contradiction and knowledge of Josephus

Proposition the First: Luke is a bad historian, because at Luke 2:2 and Acts 5:36-37 contradict Josephus.
Proposition the Second: Luke knows Josephus, because Luke 2:2 and Acts 5:36-37 read so much like Josephus.

Wait a minute? How's that work?

I'm actually not sure. The interesting thing is that there are people who would affirm both these propositions. In fact, Pervo goes as far as to argue that the fact that Acts 5:36-37 contradicts Josephus demonstrates that Luke was dependent upon Josephus in this passage. Pervo's argument is that just as Luke mentions Theudas then Judas the Galilean in Acts 5, so does Josephus mention Theudas, then Judas' sons in Antiquities 20.5; thus, Luke is following Josephus here. I frankly find this a bit strained. Luke explicitly states that Theudas was active before Judas, whereas Josephus explicitly states in Ant. 20.5 that Judas was active prior to and his sons after Theudas. In other words, Josephus tells us that the proper sequence is A (Judas), B (Theudas), C (Judas' son), whereas Luke tells us that the proper sequence is B then A, with no mention of C. Quite simply, the parallels are not as evident as Pervo want us to think, and virtually require us to suppose that Luke misread Josephus. It is of course entirely possible that Luke misread Josephus, but when the very question is whether Luke read Josephus it would seem to me that any concession that Luke must have misread Josephus calls into question whether he read him at all. Likewise, it's far from clear to me that the reference to Quirinus in Luke 2:2 can be used to establish that Luke knew Josephus if it is also to be used to show how he contradicts Josephus.

The examples of such contradiction do not stop here. Yes, great, Acts 21:38 references "The Egyptian" who led a revolt in Judea during the mid-50s. Josephus apparently references the same figure. But Acts tells us that he led 4000 persons out into the desert, whereas Josephus pegs the number at 30000. Now, I'm not interested in which of these estimates, if either, is accurate. What interests me is the difference between them. Certainly, if we had independent reason to judge that Luke knew Josephus we'd have reason to judge that L. used J. here, but simply introduced this variant to the account. Sure. But if we do not have such independent reason then the contradiction stands to challenge the very supposition that Luke knew Josephus.

This of course is not meant to be an exhaustive account of the relationship between Luke and Josephus. But let's be honest: when people say that Luke gets his history wrong, what they really mean nine times out of ten is that he diverges from Josephus. And that leads me to wonder: can one simultaneously emphasize the contradictions between Luke and Josephus while affirming that Luke used Josephus?

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