Theudas

THEUDAS (thū'das, Gr. Theudas). Josephus (Antiq. 20.5.1) mentions a Theudas who led a considerable revolt in a.d. 44 or 45. This cannot have been the Theudas of Gamaliel’s speech, which was made some ten years earlier. To suggest that Luke used Josephus, and confused Theudas and Judas (Acts.5.36-Acts.5.37), reversing their chronological order, is to disregard Luke’s customary accuracy. There is little correspondence between Luke’s definite “four hundred” and Josephus’s account of a more extensive rebellion. It is quite possible that the reference in Josephus was rather an interpolation from Acts. There could have been more than one Theudas, and our knowledge of the history of the province is far too sketchy to dispute this clear possibility. W. M. Ramsay writes, “The period is very obscure; Josephus is practically our only authority. He does not allude or profess to allude, to every little disturbance on the banks of the Jordan...” (Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? pp. 258-59). Indeed “no testimony could be stronger than that of Josephus himself to the fact that at the time of the Advent Judaea was full of tumults and seditions and pretenders of all kinds” (EGT 2:158). The movements of Theudas and of Judas were probably associated, and both took place in time of Quirinius.——EMB


In his speech to the Sanhedrin about policy to be adopted toward the Christian movement, Gamaliel refers to Theudas who made an unsuccessful attempt at rebellion (Acts 5:36). He is said to have antedated Judas of Galilee who also failed in his uprising, made at the time of the census, which was in a.d. 6. Josephus refers to someone of that name who was a magician who promised to lead his followers through Jordan dry- shod. He was killed by the troops of the procurator Fadus (c. a.d. 46-48). It has often been argued that Luke has misread Josephus. This is most unlikely in view of Luke's known accuracy in other places, and it is much more probable that there were two men of this name who lived at different times and were both engaged in some sort of public disorder.


THEUDAS thōō’ dəs (Θευδα̂ς, G2554, a contraction of Θεόδωρος, gift of God or some such name). Leader of a rebellion that failed (Acts 5:35, 36). He is mentioned in a speech before the Sanhedrin by Gamaliel who cautions them to be tolerant of the apostles lest they be found opposing God. He reasons that if the apostolic activity were of human origin only, it would fail of itself; but if it were of divine origin, nothing they did could stop it. The death of Theudas and the dispersion of his four hundred followers is cited as a basis for Gamaliel’s thesis.

Josephus (Antiq. XX. 5. 1) tells of Theudas, a magician around a.d. 44 who led a great band of adherents to the Jordan, promising to divide it for an easy passage of the river, but was caught and beheaded by the soldiers of the procurator Fadus. This cannot have been the same Theudas as the insurgent of Gamaliel’s speech (a.d. 30 or 31) who is said to have arisen before the insurrection led by Judas the Galilaean in the days of the taxing under Quirinius about a.d. 6. This and other differences separate Luke’s account and that of Josephus (see the full discussion in Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, III, 132, 133). It is not necessary to impugn Luke’s historical accuracy here by assuming that he transposed Theudas and Judas, or that he misplaced Gamaliel’s speech by moving it from ch. 12 where an angel assisted Peter’s escape from prison under Herod Agrippa (King, a.d. 41-44), to ch. 5 where the same thing happens at an earlier date (J. W. Swain, “Gamaliel’s Speech and Caligula’s Statue,” ETR, 37 [1944], 341-349). Nor did Luke misread Josephus, who did not publish his Antiquities until a.d. 93. There could have been more than one Theudas leading the “ten thousand other disorders” mentioned by Josephus (Antiq. XVII. 10. 4).

Bibliography

E. Schürer, A. History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, I, ii (1891), 168, 169; W. M. Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? (1898), 258, 259; J. W. Swain, “Gamaliel’s Speech and Caligula’s Statue,” HTR, 37 (1944), 341-349; R. B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, 14th ed. (1951), 74.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Theudas is referred to by Gamaliel in his speech before the Sanhedrin, when he advised them as to the position they should adopt in regard to the apostles (Ac 5:36). The failure of the rebellion of Theudas was quoted by Gamaliel on this occasion as typical of the natural end of such movements as were inspired "not of God, but of men." A rising under one Theudas is also described by Josephus (Ant., XX, v, 1), but this occurred at a later date (according to Josephus about 44 or 45 AD) than the speech of Gamaliel (before 37 AD). Of theories put forward in explanation of the apparent anachronism in Gameliels speech, the two most in favor are

(1) that as there were many insurrections during the period in question, the two writers refer to different Theudases;

(2) that the reference to Theudas in the narrative of Ac was inserted by a later reviser, whose historical knowledge was inaccurate (Weiss; compare also Knowling, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, II, 157-59).