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Theudas is also the name of a follower of Paul of Tarsus, who taught Valentinius, for more information, see Theudas (teacher of Valentinius)

Theudas ( /ˈθjdəs/ ; died c. 46 AD) was a Jewish rebel of the 1st century AD. Scholars attribute to his name a Greek etymology [1] possibly meant as “flowing with water”, [2] although with a Hellenist-styled ending. At some point between 44 and 46 AD, Theudas led his followers in a short-lived revolt.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.


The revolt

Our principal source for the story is Josephus, who wrote:

Josephus first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer

Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu, was a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

It came to pass, while Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the Jordan river; 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 were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but 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. [3] (Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98)

Cuspius Fadus was an Ancient Roman eques and procurator of Iudaea Province in 44–46 AD.

Charlatan person engaging in deceptive practices

A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick or deception in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception. Synonyms for "charlatan" include "shyster", "quack", or "faker". "Mountebank" comes from the Italian montambanco or montimbanco based on the phrase monta in banco - literally referring to the action of a seller of dubious medicines getting up on a bench to address his audience of potential customers. "Quack" is a reference to "quackery" or the practice of dubious medicine or a person who does not have actual medical training who purports to provide medical services.

Prophet person claiming to speak for divine beings

In religion, a prophet is an individual who is regarded as being in contact with a divine being and is said to speak on that entity's behalf, serving as an intermediary with humanity by delivering messages or teachings from the supernatural source to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

The movement was dispersed, and was never heard of again.

Josephus does not provide a number for Theudas's followers, but Acts 5:36, if it is referring to the same Theudas (see below), reports that they numbered about 400. [4]

The Theudas problem

The sole reference to Theudas presents a problem of chronology if one assumes the Acts of the Apostles and Josephus are speaking of the same person and Josephus is correct. [5] In Acts, Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin, defends the apostles by referring to Theudas:

Acts of the Apostles Book of the New Testament

Acts of the Apostles, often referred to simply as Acts, or formally the Book of Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; it tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire.

Gamaliel Doctor of Jewish Law, member of the Sanhedrin

Gamaliel the Elder, or Rabban Gamaliel I, was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early first century CE. He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel and grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder. Gamaliel is thought to have died in 52 CE. He fathered Simeon ben Gamliel, who was named for his father, and a daughter, who married a priest named Simon ben Nathanael.

Sanhedrin Ancient High Court and Legislature in the land of Israel

The Sanhedrin were assemblies of either twenty-three or seventy-one rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient Land of Israel.

Men of Israel, be cautious in deciding what to do with these men. Some time ago, Theudas came forward, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. But he was killed and his whole following was broken up and disappeared. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census; he induced some people to revolt under his leadership, but he too perished and his whole following was scattered. (Acts 5:36-8 NEB)

The difficulty is that Gamaliel, speaking before the year 37, is described as referring to the rising of Theudas, linking it to the revolt of Judas of Galilee at the time of the Census of Quirinius decades before, in 6 CE. However, Josephus makes clear that the revolt of Theudas took place around 45, which is after Gamaliel is said to have spoken, and long after the time of Judas the Galilean. [6] [7] [8]

It has been proposed that the writer of Acts used Josephus as a source, and made a mistake in reading the text, taking a later reference to the execution of the "sons of Judas the Galilean" after the rebellion of Theudas as saying that the rebellion of Judas was later; however it is a minority view as to whether the author of Luke used Josephus. [9] [10] It has also been suggested that the reference in Acts is to a different revolt by another, unknown Theudas, [11] [12] because Josephus states that there were numerous uprisings, saying there were "ten thousand disorders", but he gives details on only four and Theudas was not a unique name. [13] According to ancient historian and New Testament scholar Paul Barnett "It seems unlikely that Luke would have made an error about an infamous contemporary". [14]


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  1. Emil Schürer (1973). The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume I. revised and edited by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar and Matthew Black (revised English ed.). Edinburgh: T&T Clark. pp. 456, n. 6. ISBN   0-567-02242-0.
  2. Hitchcock, Roswell D. (1874). "Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary". A.J. Johnson. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
  3. Flavius Josephus (1824). The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus: Containing four books of the Antiquities of the Jews. With the life of Josephus. W. Borradaile. pp. 177–.
  4. W. J. Heard (1992). "Revolutionary Movements, 3.1.2: Theudas". In Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. ISBN   0-8308-1777-8.
  5. Charles H. Talbert (1 January 2003). Reading Lucke-Acts in Its Mediterranean Milieu. BRILL. pp. 200–. ISBN   90-04-12964-2.
  6. Louis H. Feldman, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings (A&C Black, 1996) page 335.
  7. Talbert, Charles H. Reading Luke-Acts in Its Mediterranean Milieu Brill pg 200
  8. Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, "Gamaliel And The Revolt Of Theudas". Retrieved October 15, 2005.
  9. Barbara Shellard (9 July 2004). New Light on Luke: Its Purpose, Sources and Literary Context. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 32–. ISBN   978-0-567-51485-1.
  10. Frederick Fyvie Bruce (1 December 1990). The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 44–. ISBN   978-0-8028-0966-7.
  11. Colin J. Hemer, Conrad H. Gempf, The book of Acts in the setting of Hellenistic history (Mohr Siebeck, 1989), pages 162-3.
  12. Ronald F. Youngblood, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas F. Nelson, 2014) page 1128.
  13. David J. Williams (1 August 2011). Acts (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Baker Books. pp. 109–. ISBN   978-1-4412-3745-3.
  14. Paul Barnett (29 March 2005). The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 199–. ISBN   978-0-8028-2781-4.