Josephus and Paul go to Rome

In 64 CE, Paul stood before Felix as both a Jew and a Roman (Acts 23.23-35), mired in a conspiracy that accused the Jews of attempting to murder the apostle. Or, at least, according to Acts. Is this a historical or a historiographical event?

Oddly enough, Josephus records that he went to Rome during the same time period (1.13-6). And… there was a shipwreck. I can’t tell from reading it if he accompanied the priests or not.

I’m not going to put this into my book because of the hypothetical nature of this – and I don’t discuss Paul.

Of course, I understand that some may assume Luke is borrowing from Josephus, but what if they aren’t? What if they are telling the same story – because, you know, other people made the journey. Except for Paul, the situation is the same. The Jewish priest were holy and pious men who caused a ruckus. That ruckus, Luke tells us, is Paul.

Just found it interesting. That’s all.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

6 thoughts on “Josephus and Paul go to Rome

  1. Paul’s fourth shipwreck (the one in Acts) takes place in 59 AD (though some say 60).

    Josephus was born in 37 AD, the same year as Nero, so his twenty-sixth year would be something like AD 63-64. By that time, Paul had been in Rome, and been released, and been recaptured, and been returned to Rome again. And then of course the fire of 64 took place in June or July. In other words, the shipwreck Josephus describes would have been happening at just before or just about the same time as Rome was burning. In other words, no, these particular priests whom Felix dealt with (in J’s autobiography) could not have been Paul and his company.

    The major lesson here may be simply that, tragically, shipwrecks were common.

  2. “Of course, I understand that some may assume Luke is borrowing from Josephus, but what if they aren’t?”

    This is a pretty solid assumption. Luke makes strange errors that are completely understandable if he was borrowing from Josephus without a solid understanding of the historical material, and difficult to explain otherwise. (source: Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament)

  3. I am interested in the phrase, “These I was desirous to procure deliverance for; and that especially because…they were not unmindful of piety towards God…but supported themselves with figs and nuts”. So it appears that Josephus connected his help, with priests piety, with them eating figs and nuts. Rather strange comment. Unless perhaps the priests were Essenes? Or just on a diet, or poor. But why does that make them especially pious. Was Paul into figs and nuts, instead of meat, or into fasting? Maybe Josephus had a fig and nut farm, and he wanted to market them in Rome :-) Think outside the box! Yes, I know, I am a jerk.

      1. I’m glad (not glaad) that Josephus didn’t say “date”. Might have interpreted it as him being gay. Let’s face it, he was sympathetic to the Essenes….a bunch of guys living alone out in the desert, without women. If they had beer and a wide-screen TV, I could believe it. And maybe a BBQ.

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