Clash of the Jews: Historicity of Jesus vs. Theudas:


Who was Theudas?

Theudas was a 1st century Jew known for his intentional yet undersized rebellion against Roman rule between the years 44 and 46 AD, around 15 or so years after the death of Jesus. He is also known for being convincingly defeated by them; he died around the year 46 AD.

Our primary sources for Jesus and Theudas

There are only two primary sources shedding light on the historicity of the Jewish man Theudas. One of these sources comes from 1st century Jewish Roman historian Josephus Flavius in his work Antiquities of the Jews (20.97-98.) This is an important piece for historians who wish to understand 1st-century AD Judaism and Christianity. According to Josephus Theudas was “a certain charlatan,” and a man who “persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them.” These followers chose to go with him to the Jordan river, because “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.” Many of his followers were “deluded by his words.” However, the Roman procurator of Iudaea Province 44–46 AD, Cuspius Fadus, “sent a troop of horsemen out against them. After falling upon them unexpectedly, they slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.”

This is what we learn about him from Josephus Flavius, however we learn a little bit more from one of our New Testament books, the Acts of the Apostles. Acts tells us that Theudas had a following of about 400. “Some time ago, Theudas came forward, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him.” Like we learn from Josephus we find that “he was killed,” and as a result “his whole following was broken up and disappeared.”

It is likely that Theudas’ followers were unarmed, as seemingly indicated by the troop of the horsemen Fadus sent. Fadus was probably not overly concerned about a powerful kickback from Theudas’ followers.

The textual sources for Jesus far outweigh what we have for Theudas in clarity, and quantity. Our historical sources and information on Jesus come from several major sources, namely, the four biographical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), the Pauline epistles, non-Pauline epistles, Petrine and Johannine literature, Hebrews, James, Jude and Acts (Acts is also authored by the author of the Gospel of Luke). Following on from these we have several non-Biblical sources that tells us about Jesus, and early Christian belief in him, particularly by Cornelius Tacitus (Annals), and Josephus Flavius (Antiquities of the Jews). We have some independent attestation in the earliest of our early church fathers Clement of Rome, and Ignatius of Antioch. Later, early-to-late 2nd century textual sources from the Gnostics also build on the traditions of Jesus, these sources are highly legendary and not historically trustworthy (Gospel of Thomas and Peter). We also have other ancient writers picking up on traditions of very early belief regarding Jesus (Lucian, Suetonius, Pliny, and several others). Furthermore, we also have attestation of Jesus in pre-New Testament Gospel hypothetical sources. These are sources that no longer exist for us to analyze today, but based of historical investigation of our primary sources are posited to have once existed. These include hypothetical L, M (Luke & Matthew’s special materials), Q source, pre-Markan Passion Narrative, and pre-John material (Signs Gospel).

We have much more opportunity, based on historical sources, to sketch a reliable portrait of Jesus than we have for Theudas. The historical evidence for Jesus, especially about his three-year ministry, is more varied, and rich.

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