John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 11

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: October 11


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Theudas and Judas

Act_5:36-37

Let us this evening return to the speech of Gamaliel, for one purpose of bestowing more particular attention upon the historical circumstances to which he refers. “For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

To this mention of Theudas an objection has been taken which it is important to clear up. It is said to be opposed to the statements of Josephus, who, in his Antiquities of the Jews, relates that when Fadus was Procurator of Judea, one Theudas prevailed upon a great multitude to take with them their wealth, and follow him to the river Jordan. For he gave himself out to be a prophet, and declared that the river, dividing at his command, would afford them an easy passage. Fadus, however, suffered them not long to enjoy their delusion, but sent a body of horse against them, which, falling upon them unexpectedly, killed many, and took many alive. They took also Theudas himself, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. Note: Antiquities, xx. 5, § 1. Now Josephus most expressly tells us that this happened under the administration of Fadus, who was made Procurator after the death of king Herod-Agrippa, in the fourth year of the Emperor Claudius, and therefore many years after this speech was made by Gamaliel. It is therefore urged by misbelievers, that words are put into the mouth of Gamaliel by the writer of the Acts which he never uttered; that he is represented as relating an event of which he could not at that time possibly have had any knowledge, seeing that it happened many years after.

It will be seen that the force of the objection here taken, rests on the assumption that the Theudas here mentioned by Gamaliel, and the Theudas of whom Josephus speaks, are one and the same person. And this is attempted to be proved from the identity of the name and the similarity of the circumstances. Each boasted himself to be somebody, had a number of followers, and was slain. But, these being incidents common to almost all impostors who raise a rebellion, they by no means prove the point for which they are brought forward. On the other hand, there are also circumstances stated in which the two transactions differ very widely. Gamaliel expressly says that his Theudas was before Judas of Galilee, who raised a sedition “in the time of the taxing,” which taxing, as we have seen, Note: Evening Series: Twenty-Eighth Week, Wednesday. took place when Judea was made a Roman province, in the twelfth year of our era. But the Theudas of Josephus was under the Procurator Fadus, that is, in the year 45 or 46 A.D., as these two years formed the whole duration of his government. There was thus, from the data respectively supplied by the two historians, an interval little short, if at all short, of forty years between the two events and persons. In the next place, the Theudas of Josephus gathered together a much larger body of men than the Theudas of Gamaliel; Josephus says, “a very great multitude;” whereas Gamaliel says, “a number of men, about four hundred.” Of the very great multitude who followed Theudas, Josephus asserts that many were killed and many taken alive; but Gamaliel affirms that when his Theudas was killed, all his followers were scattered.

When we take into account this difference of time and other circumstances, it is obviously suggested that Gamaliel and Josephus had two different events and persons in view. No argument to the contrary can be drawn from the name; for Theudas or Thaddeus was in this age a very common name among the Jews. Besides these, several persons of the name are mentioned in the Talmud; and one of the apostles bore the name of Thaddeus. The possibility of this is illustrated by the fact that several seditious leaders in this age were called Judas, besides Judas of Galilee; and a still larger number of public impostors bore the name of Simon. It is therefore not in itself unlikely that two leaders of the name of Theudas should appear at an interval of forty years.

That this s there was a Theudas, other than the one named by Josephus, who raised a sedition anterior, probably by some years, to that raised by Judas of Galilee at the time of the taking, and that it is to him Gamaliel refers, has been the opinion, or rather explanation, given by many of the best ancient and modern interpreters. The insurrection of Judas of Galilee was after the close of the reign of Archelaus; and we may find a time about the beginning of that reign to which this other sedition may very well be assigned. This was when Archelaus was at home, soliciting from the Emperor Augustus the confirmation of his father’s will. At that time, as described by Josephus himself, almost the whole of Palestine was in commotion. In Idumea 2,000 soldiers, who had been dismissed by Herod, in conjunction with several others, took the field against Achiab, a relation of Herod, and compelled him, with his soldiers, to retire to the mountains. In Galilee, Judas, the son of Hezekiah, the leader of a band of robbers that had been suppressed by Herod, made himself master of Sepphoris, armed his numerous followers from the arsenal of that city, pillaged the country; and spread devastation and terror on every side. In Perea, Simon, one of Herod’s slaves, assumed the diadem, collected a band of desperate men, robbed the inhabitants, and among other acts of violence, burnt the royal castle at Jericho. Another mob fell upon Amathus on the Jordan, and burnt the royal castle. A shepherd named Athronges also assumed the regal title, collected a large body of followers, and with his three brothers, all men of gigantic stature, laid waste the country, plundered and slew the inhabitants, and sometimes repulsed the Romans themselves. In short, the whole country was full of bands of robbers, each having a king or chief at its head; and they seem to have been expecting the Messiah to deliver them from the Romans, who then, instead of protecting the people, increased the distresses of the nation by their extortions.

It is thus highly probable that the Theudas of Gamaliel arose at this time. There is certainly room here for him. He may even have been one of those just named; for, as is well known by the scripture history, it was very common for Jews to have two names, and to be as often denoted by the one as the other. Archbishop Usher thinks that the Judas, son of Hezekiah, mentioned just now, was the same with the Theudas of Gamaliel. But this is uncertain.

However, this consideration makes it also far from certain that this Theudas is not mentioned by Josephus, though not by name, or not by the same name. But, assuming that he does not notice this circumstance, we may with confidence urge that the silence of Josephus concerning it is no good argument against its truth. His history is very brief, in many places passing over a number of years without relating any remarkable fact. This is shown in what he says, and does not say, of the “Judas of Galilee,” to whom Gamaliel also refers. He has not one word of the death of this notorious person and the dispersion of his followers; yet no one ever doubted these facts because he has not affirmed them. What he does tell us is in agreement with Gamaliel, that Judas excited the people to rebellion, and had many followers; Note: De Bell. Jud. ii. 8, § 1. Antiq. xviii. 1, § 1. and the rest of our information, forming the obvious sequel, we owe to the Rabban, whose speech St. Luke has preserved. Josephus does, however, afterwards inform us that Jacob and Simon, the two sons of this Judas, were crucified by the Procurator Tiberius Alexander (A.D. 46-47) only a year or two after the appearance of the later Theudas; Note: Antiq. xx. 4. § 2. but he does not even mention the crimes for which they suffered, though no one doubts that it was for spreading the seditious opinions of their father, and attempting to excite the people against the Romans. From the analogy which this case affords, some have supposed that the Theudas spoken of by Josephus, may have been the son of the Theudas mentioned in the speech of Gamaliel, it being no unusual thing for children to tread in the steps of their parents.

Of Judas of Galilee we have incidentally given all the information possessed. The “taxing” or census which took place under Cyrenius, when, after the deposition of Archelaus, Judea was made a Roman province, was a step which excited great discontent among the Jews, being regarded as a basis for further exaction by the Romans, and a mark of their complete subjection to Rome, which they had in part allowed themselves to forget while ruled by kings and ethnarchs of their own—possessing a shadow of independence. This discontent the high-priest Joazar exerted himself to allay by all the means in his power. But this Judas, aided by one Sadduc, a Sadducee, more successfully labored to ferment the popular disgust, by representing the census of the people, the valuation of their property, and the payment of direct tribute, as the most shameful slavery, and contrary to the law which required the Jews to own no sovereign but God. By these representations, which had no real foundation in the law of Moses, they now raised a party, and excited great commotions. These, however, were suppressed, and Roman power thoroughly established. But the doctrine taught by these men survived as the tenet of a considerable sect; and, long after the time of Gamaliel’s speech, it again broke out into action, contributing much to the disturbances of the nation, and to that last rebellion against the Romans which ended in that nation’s overthrow.