Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Luke, A Historian "Par Excellent"[sic]? (2)

From the Errancy discussion list, August 18, 1997:

Otsen has cited the amazing historical accuracy of Luke as an argument
for biblical inerrancy, as if he somehow believes that because one
biblical writer was accurate in some geographical, political, and social
matters, he was therefore right in everything he wrote and that the entire
Bible must, as a consequence, be inerrant. In an earlier posting, I listed
over two dozen references that Luke made in the book of Acts to
extraordinary events. I challenge Otsen to present to us some kind of
extra-biblical evidence to prove that at least some of these events actually
happened. Until he can do this, he is in effect arguing that because Luke
knew the geography of the region he wrote about and the names of some
public officials and such like, we can thereby know that Luke was also
accurate in his reporting of the various miracle claims found in his gospel
and the book of Acts.

I'll use just one example to show how fallacious this line of reasoning is.
In *The Twelve Caesars,* the Roman historian Suetonius recorded many
events and named many public officials that are universally accepted as
historically accurate.  However, Suetonius also stated that when Roman
officials were arguing over where the body of Julius Caesar should be
cremated, two "divine forms" came down with torches in hand and set fire
to the funeral couch (Penguin Books, 1989, p. 52).  Suetonius also stated
that a man who had just recently purchased the mansion that had been
owned by the grandfather of Caesar Augustus went to sleep in the room
that had been the nursery of Augustus, and in the night he was "hurled
out of bed by a supernatural agency and found lying half-dead against
the door, bedclothes and all" (p. 56).  Suetonius further claimed that
Emperor Vespasian healed a blind man and a lame man by just touching
the lame man and spitting on the eyes of the blind man (p. 284).  Tacitus
made this same claim. 

What are we to conclude about these remarkable claims?  Are we
supposed to assume that because Suetonius was historically accurate in
so many of his details about ORDINARY events and persons, he
therefore had to be accurate in his reporting of supernatural deeds like
these?  Otsen should tell us if he accepts the historical accuracy of
Suetonius in the supernatural claims that he wrote about.  If not, why
STANDARD OF CONSIDERATION, then he should explain to us
why Luke's accuracy in commonplace, ordinary matters should give
us reason to assume Luke's accuracy in unconfirmed supernatural
claims .

As for Luke's historical accuracy in ordinary historical matters, I will
cite just one example that gives us reason to doubt this frequently made
claim.  In Acts 5:35-37, Luke had Gamaliel, a Pharisee and "doctor of the
law," saying this to the Sanhedrin as they deliberated on what to do to the
apostles for continuing to preach the resurrection of Jesus: "You men of
Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what you are about
to do.  For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out 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
dispersed and came to nought.  AFTER  this man rose up Judas of
Galilee in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some of the
people after him. He also perished and all, as many as obeyed him,
were scattered abroad."

In this speech, Luke had Gamaliel putting the revolt of Theudas before the
one led by Judas of Galilee.  Luke's Gamaliel dated Judas's uprising at the
time of the "enrollment," which is a probable reference to the enrollment
that Luke mentioned in his gospel (2:2).  Luke alleged that this enrollment
occurred when Quirinius was governor of Syria (2:2), and in the
*Antiquities of the Jews,* Josephus referred to the "sons of Judas of
Galilee," who had been slain in a revolt when Cyrenius [Quirinius]
came to take an account of the state of the Jews" (20:5.2).  In 20:5.1
however, Josephus said that the revolt of Theudas happened when
Fadus was "procurator of Judea," and this would have had to have
been between A. D. 44-46, since that was when Fadus procurator of
Judea.  Quirinius was governor of Syria 40 years earlier, so we have
Luke disagreeing with Josephus as to the proper sequence of these
two revolts.  Luke said that the revolt of Theudas happened before
Judas of Galilee's; Josephus said the opposite.  In fact, if the revolt
of Theudas occurred during the administration of Fadus, then Luke
has Gamaliel talking about a revolt that hadn't even happened yet. 
(Gamaliel's speech was allegedly made about two months after the
alleged resurrection in about A.D. 29; Fadus was procurator of Judea
in A. D. 44-46.)

To "resolve" this problem, biblical inerrantists have argued that the
Theudas that Josephus referred to was not the same Theudas that Luke's
Gamaliel referred to, and some have simply said that Luke was right and
Josephus wrong.  At any rate, this one example is enough to cast doubt
on the frequently heard fundamentalist claim that Luke has been shown
to be a remarkably accurate historian.

By the way, if Otsen were on the list now, he would be aware of a thread
that is discussing a probable error that Luke made in the second chapter
of his gospel when he referred to a decree that Caesar Augustus sent out
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Farrell Till

Not to mention the fact that Luke's story of Augustan's decree for a
census was merely a device used by the author to place the Galileans
Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus's birth.

Luke believed that the Jewish scriptures prophesied that the messiah
would be born in Bethlehem and he had to figure out a way to get
Mary and Joseph out of Galilee and into Bethlehem. He did this by
claiming that the Romans required the men to return to the city of
their ancestors for a tax census. This is a ridiculous contrivance and
utterly absurd.

To begin with, there is no record of a census being held at the time of
Jesus's birth. The Romans kept meticulous records of such events and
it is not likely that such a census was carried out in so contentious a place
without it being recorded. It is also highly unlikely that such a census
could be carried out without the rioting that accompanied Quirinius's
census of 6-7 CE.

Additionally, the Romans, being efficient bureaucrats, did not require
people to leave their homes and travel to a far-away city for a census.
They would have been absolute morons to do such a thing. How could
they possibly have assessed Joseph's property from Bethlehem when it
was in Nazareth? Why would they have clogged the roads with civilian
travelers, making it impossible for the Roman army to respond quickly
to a threat from the Parthians or other military enemies?

The historical record not only does not support Luke's description of a
census at the time of Jesus's birth, it actually refutes Luke's claim.

Nancy Todd

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