Paul the Herodian and Courtier of Nero
“I Myself Should Be a Castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27)
Robert Eisenman, in Jesus the Brother of James, makes the case that New Testament Saul was one and the same as Herodian prince Saulus written about in the contemporary history by Josephus. The characterization of Prince Saulus like that of Saul is that of a provocateur, however he is denounced for this in Josephus rather than idolized as in the Book of Acts. Although Josephus includes many of the same people and events found in Acts, the appearance of Saulus in Josephus dovetails with his departure at the close of Acts. Eisenman is convinced that the Book of Acts fills in the missing biography of Saul and was in fact motivated by the need to counterbalance the negative image of Saul (“Apostle Paul”) in Josephus.
The theory that Luke knew of the writings of Josephus and used them in his own history was put forth over 100 years ago. Steve Mason states in Josephus and the New Testament (p 292-293), “If he did not, however, we have a nearly incredible series of coincidences, which require that Luke knew something that closely approximated Josephus’s narrative in several distinct ways. … Even without the hypothesis that Luke knew Josephus, most scholars date Luke-Acts to the 80’s or 90’s or even later, on entirely different grounds.” This means that the author of Acts knew how Paul’s life ended, but decided not to include a description of it. In contrast, the martyrdom of Stephen and James son of Zebedee was carefully documented in Acts, but the far greater Paul is denied that crowning glory not only in Acts but all of canonized Scripture. It begs the question: Did the narrative of Acts break off prior to Paul’s death in order to bury some element of his death that was scandalous, at least from an orthodox (Roman) Christian perspective?
“The Time of My Departure is at Hand” (2 Timothy 4:6)
The Book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome. Prior to this he had been arrested and detained at Jerusalem (circa 61-62 A.D.) for causing a riot and then appealing to Caesar in his defense. For two years after this (circa 62-63 A.D.), we are told that Paul lived under a nominal house arrest and continued to evangelize boldly. We are not told what happened to Paul at the end of those two years. Nor does the Book of Acts give the slightest premonition of the horrors that so shortly were to come upon Christians in Rome and throughout the empire. One is rather left with the impression that the greatest trials of the new faith were past. According to Josephus however, the most controversial acts of Saul/Paul and those in league with him came not before but after his coveted audience with Nero. For Robert Eisenman, this not only casts a shadow on the finale of Acts but over the entire work.
From Josephus it appears the author of Acts knew that the disposition of Paul’s hearing was just as Paul expected, favorable. Acts could have ended on this particularly high note, but instead leads the quasi-informed reader to assume that Paul in communion with other persecuted Christians was a victim of Nero in 64 A.D. On the other hand, beginning in 63 A.D., Josephus makes Saul the valet of Nero at Jerusalem, and again in 66 A.D. when the Jewish Revolt breaks out. The shocking presence of Paul at the epicenter of that unfolding trauma, very much still alive and kicking at the pricks, naturally places his life and mission in a far more bedazzling light. In response, the New Testament is blinded and cannot speak.
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© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.