A* or F? Do the Gospel authors know 1st century Geography?

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Reading Time: 56 minutes

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Failure: Philostratus life of Apollonius, how a Fraud fails to fake the past
  • Detail categories
    • Literary Genre
    • Currency exchange
    • Finance
    • Crucifixion & burial practices
    • Governance changes
    • Jewish customs (Jewishness)
    • Bodies of water
    • Roads, travel & topography
    • Gardens
    • Botanical
    • Local language
    • Weather
    • Name records
    • Disambiguating speech
    • Geography & locations
      • Accusation: Mark doesn’t know what he’s talking about geographically
  • Later forgeries in contrast
  • Non-Christian texts are late
  • Scholarly fact lists
  • John (Blomberg)
  • Acts (Hermer)
  • William Paley’s 41 facts
  • Conclusion
  • Sources

Introduction

Suppose someone wrote a book in 1980 describing your hometown as it was that year. In the book, the author correctly describes: your town’s politicians, its unique laws and penal codes, the local industry, local weather patterns, local slang, the town’s roads and geography, its unusual topography, local houses of worship, town statutes and sculptures, the depth of the water in the town harbor, and numerous other unique details about your town that year. Question: If the author claimed he had visited your town that year—or said he had gotten good information from people who had been there and provides you with all these specific details would you think he was telling the truth? Of course, because he provides details that only an eyewitness could provide. That’s the type of testimony we have throughout much of the New Testament. They are live witnesses 

One test of the Gospels’ veracity is whether they display familiarity with the time and places they wrote about. If they do not, that quickly reveals that they cannot be trusted historically. If they do, that does not on its own demonstrate that all of what they wrote is true, it merely shows that the writers had enough know-how to write true stories, and it eliminates the objection that they were too distant from events to be trusted. A scholar by the name of Nathaniel Lardner wrote a 17 volume work on these details! Now I can’t promise that, but what I give you are perhaps are light summaries of these details.

Failure: Philostratus life of Apollonius: How a Fraud fails to fake the past 

A good example of someone from history who massively failed at trying to cheat the first century history was Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius written around 200AD. He attempts to make up the life of a sage from the 1st century, however he does an awful job. Scholars have recognised dozens of errors which show the mark of a later forger such as having Apollonius talk with the Kings in Babylon, yet in the first century Babylon was still in ruins. Also Apollonius’ trip to India is completely incompatible with known facts from the time also. Most scholars recognise this is a made up sage based on Jesus and it’s meant to give the pagans their own Miracle worker. So if the Gospels were written by later forgers it would be easy for them to mix up facts and show they were not organically part of the 1st century Palestine. We’ll cycle category by category. This has been written so you can skip chapters if you want!

Details

Literary Genre

What Genre are the Gospels? Do they fit a genre of antiquity? Or does it simply not fit in the time it was formed? We’ll outline an array of proposals and see if the Gospels cohere with any of them.

First proposal: Aretalogies 

This word refers to a life of a hero (quashing-divinised, defied individual) whose life is seen as exemplary or virtuous and whether it be some of the lives of the Caesars or ancient heroes of old like Asclepius. People whose lives have become larger than life down through the centuries, a very legendary format often believed the individual to become divine after their death. Professor Craig Blomberg tells us Students who have combed through pre-christian sources have said there aren’t enough similar documents even to make this an existing category at a date this early in history.

Second proposal: Greek playwrights—Comedies or Tragedies (like drama)

From one perspective, the life of a man with so many compelling characteristics such as Jesus of Nazareth who then was innocently executed and experienced an agonising death could be likened to a tragedy. Blomberg informs us however, because the Gospels end with the resurrection there is very little in the gospels that you could link to being written like a Greek play. Very little suggests staging, scene work, acts or the larger dramatic features of plays. These also aren’t very Jewish categories.

Third proposal: Epic narratives or sagas (Like Homer’s Iliad) 

The more people excavate Troy, the more they discover what was thought to be fiction appears to be factual. The stories undoubtedly were embellished, but they were embellished over a series of centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman heroes often had miracles attributed to them half a millennium after their lives that none of the most ancient sources of information about their lives ever mention. Blomberg again warns that a 30 year gap from the event is far too short for sagas (Mark’s Gospel), myths or epic narratives to form about Jesus.

Forth proposal: Extended parable or apocalypse 

Could the gospels be one large parable? A fictional story to teach theological truth? Jesus does have a lot of parables but Blomberg tells us that this theory hasn’t gained any momentum.

Fifth proposal: Midrash

This word means commentary. There are books in the intertestamental period where books of the Old Testament were embellished with commentaries and notes and colourful retelling of the stories because it was assumed the Jews knew their bible well enough for such creative commentaries to exist to help communicate the message. The Jews would be able to distinguish between these bible and non bible books. Is this what happened to the gospels? Again Blomberg tells us this theory has not caught on either, there’s not really much to go on.

Sixth proposal: Sui generis (one of a kind)

This has been popular obviously and you can imagine why us Christians would like to claim this. But is that just to give up though?

Seventh proposal: Biographical genre

This is where scholars like Richard Burridge ended up ending in his landmark work “What Are The Gospels?”. Biographical genres focus on one central character and intend to tell his life story. 

They are ancient biographies, partaking of elements of Jewish biographies (both inside and outside of scripture) and partaking in Greco-roman biographies. Modern readers looking at these will often say that they don’t read like modern biographies, and they’d be correct. If your words were misinterpreted in the 31st century (1,000 years from now) you’d be upset but could understand it may not make complete sense at first glance.

What are the characteristics of these ancient biographies? 

  • Great selectivity in narrating portions of someone’s life that were deemed most significant. 

How could Mark start a biography by describing someone named John the baptist who pointed the way forward to Jesus and introduced his main character fully grown? It tells nothing about his birth, childhood or adulthood. This wouldn’t pass in an introduction to literature class for college students. Matthew and Luke do include material surrounding his birth. Except for the one account in Luke 2 teaching at 12 in the temple, nothing between his childhood and his public ministry at age 30.

This is a perfect way of doing biography normally in the ancient Mediterranean world. Some literary critics have called it “narrative time” to focus in only on the significant events in ones life.

Mark and John both devote nearly half of their accounts to the events of Jesus last journey to Jerusalem through his death and resurrection. It’s not proportional to his life, but that’s exactly what ancient biographers did. Christians came to the conviction that the most important thing about Jesus life was his death and resurrection. So there the narrative time slows down. 

It’s been estimated that everything narrated that happens in Jesus public ministry in the four gospels put together could have occured in three months, however, we know from John’s gospel that he had a three year ministry. So there’s being passed over (which would cohere with John in the ending of his Gospel as he explains there were many more acts not written down)

  • Ancient biographies sometimes proceed in chronological sequence often proceeded topically, thematically.

Mark 1, after introduction to John the Baptist, after a brief reference to baptism and temptation precedes to describe a series of physical healings Jesus performed. Then the following chapter 2 gathers together a series of conflicts between Jesus and the authorities over interpretation of the law. Then most of chapter 3 contrasts teachings about discipleship with opposition that Jesus encounters. Chapter 4: collection of parables. End of chapter 4: collection of great miracles.

So when you look at Matthew and Luke, you won’t be surprised at the different ordering because of how they’ve chosen to order their biographies. Infact Luke writes in his introduction he intends to write a more orderly account, perhaps thinking with Mark and Matthew in mind.

This is a world without Paraphrases, abbreviation and explanation of speakers’ words and without quotation marks as authors felt there was no need for them. It was seen as credible back then to reword a saying to make it your own work but keep the intention and meaning, so if Luke uses Mark then he may alter the sentence slightly. Josephus did the same in his own works! He never directly quoted another book he wrote word for word.)

The idea of the modern congressional record which supposedly records every word of every speaker would have been considered absurd to the ancients. Why waste so much pen and ink for what is irrelevant? Publishing a journal about day by day mundane events would have been largely pointless to them. We have modern blogs like facebook, Instagram etc. They certainly did not. Sharing what you had for dinner, or posting a selfie would have simply convinced the ancients of the utter decay of modern civilisation!

In summary, you didn’t record something from ancient history unless they were important enough to learn something from them. So even in the mundane details of the Gospels that were irrelevant for later generations, they were relevant at the time (the greetings) and Christian belief in the inspired scripture lead them to preserve such sentences and content. 

Source: Craig Blomberg, Reliability of the New Testament, Credocourses.com

Currency exchange

In Matthew 17 Jesus is approached by Peter to pay a Temple Tax of 2 drachmas. Jesus teaches Peter a lesson and tells him where he can find the amount for himself and Jesus to pay the tax. Peter goes to the sea and finds a shekel which in ancient Rome was equal to 4 drachma (2+2=4). So here, Matthew records the appropriate currency exchange that 1 shekel is equal to 4 drachma.

Why is this find so fascinating? It’s an example they knew what they were talking about. If I told you to tell me the proper currency exchange in the United Kingdom 30 years ago could you do it? And part of this would be that you must do it without modern technology like the internet or extensive libraries to browse through.

The odds are very slim, pot-luck really. In the same way when the gospel writers get details like this correct, it matters because if they were written by later forgers after the destruction of the temple in 70AD, which dramatically changed the culture they would make numerous errors and demonstrate they were not part of that culture but later frauds. Likely, the currency exchange could’ve even been different in different parts of the empire at the same time! Never mind the same decade!

Finance

Matthew and Mark place a whole group of tax collectors in Capernaum (Matthew 9:9–10; Mark 2:14–15). What is not mentioned in any Gospel is that Capernaum was at a strategic point at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, and a key location for collecting customs on what crossed the border of the territory of Herod Antipas. Likewise, Luke mentions Zacchaeus as being a chief tax collector in Jericho (Luke 19:2). It is not only the sycamore tree that fits the location. Jericho was also the major town on Pontius Pilate’s side of the border of Judaea with Peraea, the territory of Herod Antipas. So Matthew and Mark, on the one hand, and Luke, on the other, have independently recorded different events with tax collectors in different border towns. The Gospels show knowledge of the local tax systems. Matthew himself was traditionally identified as a tax collector, and Matthew’s Gospel shows the greatest level of financial interest, including numerous references to money and treasure that Matthew alone records:

  • The magi, with their rich gifts (2:11) 
  • The parable about hidden treasure (13:44) 
  • The parable about the discovered pearl (13:45–46) 
  • The scribe compared to someone bringing out old and new treasures (13:52) 
  • The account of Peter and the temple tax collectors (17:24–27) 
  • The parable of the servant who was forgiven a huge debt of ten thousand talents and who refused to forgive a fellow servant a debt of a hundred denarii (18:23–35) 
  • The parable of the workers in the vineyard, discontented with their pay of one denarius for a day because the same was given to late arrivals who had worked less time (20:1–16) 
  • The parable about talents (25:14–30)55 
  • Judas’s betrayal money (27:3) and what was purchased with it (27:7) 
  • The bribe given by the chief priests to the guards at Jesus’s tomb (28:12)

Both Matthew and Mark mention corban (Matthew 27:6; Mark 7:11), the dedication of money to the temple. But they record different incidents: one a speech by the chief priests and another an occasion of Jesus quoting others. And the two Gospels even spell the word differently, showing their independence in knowing the term.

Crucifixion & burial practices

The depiction of Jesus crucifixion correlates with known facts about crucifixion such as carrying your Cross and being nailed to it. [Plutarch, The divine Vengeance, 554 a5-b6]. Some have argued crucifixion victims were tied to the cross with rope, however in 1968 and ossuary was found containing the body of a Jewish man named Yohanan Ben Ha’galgo containing a 7 inch nail driven through both his feet and his legs were also crushed confirming the practice of breaking the victims legs.

Sceptics like Dale Martin also have argued Jesus wouldn’t have been allowed to be given a proper burial, however the fact that this man (Yohanan) was given a proper burial damages such a claim. Josephus also tells us that prior to 70AD crucified victims were allowed to be given a proper burial [Josephus, Jewish War 4.317]

The Bible again is consistent with history

Governance changes

Writing about first century Judea is no easy feat. Just observe how the governance changed.

First, Herod the Great ruled a united kingdom but then his kingdom is divided between three sons (Archelaus, Antipas & Phillip). Archelaus is never certified as king however, but is allowed to reign. Then Archelaus is removed and Judea is reduced to a Roman province run by prefects. But the religious leaders were still allowed some role in military power. However in 36AD, Pilate is removed and replaced with others which lasts until Herod Agrippa is given kingship of the entire region. He lasts a few years and then dies and is replaced by a system of procurators. However Herod Agrippa II later is given some power in Judea but it is limited. The whole region is highly confusing and has made some Roman Historians struggle with following all of this. However and what’s remarkable is the Gospel writers weave through this chaos with ease where it would be easy to make a mistake and show you that you’re clueless about this era. Yet if you observe the New Testament, they constantly get the details right. It gets even incredibly specific details correct like about Archelaus who was not a king but only reigning as one. A later forger would’ve likely messed up this complex era.

Luke specifically gets the name of ports, local Industries, certain regions, proper lines of boundaries, slang terminology, specific landmarks, local variations in languages, proper titles for Regional and local officials all correct

For example, he knows that the Governor of Cyprus is called a Proconsul (Acts 13:7); Rulers in Philippi are called governors (Acts 16:20-22)l Those of Thessalonica are called politarchs (Acts 16:6-8); The chief magistrate in Ephesus is called town clerk (Acts 19:35); the ruler in Malta is called the chief man (Acts 28:7); in Athens, Areopagites is a title for a member of their court (Acsts 17:18); You don’t get this accuracy unless you are in the culture.

Jewish customs (Jewishness)

Matthew, after beginning with a sixteen-verse genealogy in a style characteristic of the Old Testament, contains roughly 55 quotations from the Jewish Scriptures, and is dealing with Jewish customs, debates, language, and politics. Mark begins with a quotation from the Old Testament (1:2-3) and contains a series of five controversy stories essentially about Jewish debates over who can forgive sins, with whom one can eat, fasting, and (two narratives) the Sabbath (2:1–3:6). Jesus’s main speeches involve parables (chap. 4), what makes one unclean (chap. 7), and the end of the age (chap. 13)— in other words, a Jewish genre, a Jewish interest, and a text full of Jewish apocalyptic language. 

John starts with the same two words as the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament and with an opening highly reflective of the beginning of the Bible (Genesis). John also is aware of the stone vessels for purification, which are characteristically Jewish (John 2:6).

Arguably the least Jewish Gospel is Luke, but even there we find detailed knowledge of Jewish thought. For instance, when Jesus is having his dispute with the Devil (Luke 4:9–12) the matter under discussion is the correct interpretation of Psalm 91. The discovery of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (called 11Q11), which shows that this psalm was particularly used to exorcise demons, gives a new depth to our understanding of this interaction. Luke’s Gospel has recorded something that exactly fits with the Judaism of the time. 

Similarly, knowledge of Jewish thought is shown when Luke alone reports that Jesus died saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)—a direct quotation which R. Steven Notley calls “the traditional deathbed prayer of an observant Jew.”

It was only natural that gradually the original Jewishness of Christianity was largely forgotten. Scholars debate the timing of the process, but there is no doubt that Christianity and Judaism went their separate ways. Generally, the later the Christian text, the less it resembles other forms of Judaism. If we start with texts we know can be dated to the second century or later, they look decidedly less Jewish than the four Gospels. For example, we can compare the four Gospels with the Gospel of Thomas, which is from the mid-second century. As is typical for something written in that period, the Gospel of Thomas reflects little Jewish background.

The four Gospels are so influenced by Judaism in their outlook, subject matter, and detail that it would be reasonable to date them considerably before the Jewish War. The Jewishness of the material favours earlier dates at least for their content, so that even if we say that the Gospels are late first century, the material in them is not.

Bodies of water

Matthew uses the word sea 16 times, four times it does not refer to any sea in particular, but the other 12 times it has some reference to the Sea of Galilee. Mark uses sea 19 times. Twice it refers to no sea in particular. 

As in Matthew, it is named specifically when Jesus returns from Tyre via Sidon to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31). Otherwise it is simply “the sea.” This is what we would expect if Mark’s Gospel really were written on the basis of information supplied to Mark by the fisherman Peter, for whom this would have been the sea par excellence (see more in the Geography section). 

Luke is rather different. He uses the word sea only three times and never in reference to a particular body of water. If, as is traditionally thought, Luke came from Antioch on the Orontes, not far from the Mediterranean, he certainly would not have thought of the tiny Sea of Galilee as the sea. He just calls it “the lake”. Peter however in Mark’s Gospel has a smaller world.

John, traditionally held to be a Galilean fisherman, uses the word sea nine times in two scenes by the Sea of Galilee in chapters 6 and 21. The first occurrence is the most specified— “the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias,” where the sea is also named after Tiberias, a major town on the shore (John 6:1). Subsequent references in the same chapter are just to “the sea.”  John again speaks of “the Sea of Tiberias” when reintroducing the lake in a new context (John 21:1), then refers back to it simply as “the sea” (John 21:7). John also tells us of the seasonal stream, the Kidron, near Jerusalem, and two pools in Jerusalem, one of which he correctly describes as having five colonnades. 

Table 3.3. Gospel writers’ references to bodies of water 

Roads, travel & topography

All four Gospels know that traveling to Jerusalem (elevation about 750 meters, or about 2450 feet) is correctly described as going up. Mark and Luke know that leaving Jerusalem is correctly described as going down.

Luke

There are some occasions when we get the impression that the Gospel writers know rather particularly the topography of the land. In Luke 10:30–31 we read of Jesus telling a story that begins as follows: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.” Jericho is, in fact, the lowest city on earth, over 250 meters (over 800 feet) below sea level. Going from Jerusalem to Jericho involves a descent of approximately one kilometer. Go down is therefore very much the right expression. The passage assumes a direct route between Jerusalem and Jericho, which of course there is.

John

In John 2:12 the journey from Cana of Galilee to Capernaum is described as going down. Similarly, in John 4 we have an account of a nobleman coming to Jesus while Jesus is in Cana, begging him to come down and heal his son who is in Capernaum. The verb come down is repeatedly used to describe the journey from Cana to Capernaum. The location of Cana is disputed, but the lowest of the candidates, Khirbet Qana, is at an elevation of about 200 meters (about 700 feet), whereas Capernaum is over 200 meters below sea level. Likewise Luke 4:31 describes travel from Nazareth (around 350 meters, or 1150 feet above sea level) to Capernaum as going down.

Rather specific knowledge is evidenced by the words attributed to Jesus in Luke 10:13–15 (and its parallel in Matthew 11:21–23):

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades

Jesus upbraids three Jewish towns or villages—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—contrasting the first two with the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon. The little-known village Chorazin is in fact on the road to Bethsaida and just a couple of miles north of Capernaum. As far as we know, there was not a single literary source that could have provided this information to a Gospel author.

In Luke 9:51–53 Jesus and his disciples were refused passage through Samaria when traveling southward from Galilee to Judaea. In John 4:4 Jesus takes the route northward from Judaea to Galilee through Samaria. However, Luke also describes a journey to Jerusalem via Jericho (Luke 18:35) and then through the villages of Bethphage and Bethany (Luke 19:29). John depicts Jesus as making his final approach to Jerusalem from the east via Bethany (John 12:1). The information in Luke and John accords with the way Matthew and Mark portray Jesus’s final approach to Jerusalem. He is said to go from Galilee to the Transjordan (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1) and to approach Jerusalem from Jericho (Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46) and then Bethphage, which is located by the narrative as on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 21:1; Mark 11:1).

Gardens 

The Gospel writers often mention details that are not recorded in any other books. There are two specific gardens which are mentioned: one called Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his arrest, and one near Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion. As there are no other surviving contemporary records of these place names, it is less likely that the Gospel writers had access to geographical books that would have inform them about these places. 
Since before the fourth century, Jesus’s tomb has been thought to be within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where, according to Shimon Gibson, one of the leading authorities on the archaeology of that church, John’s depiction of a garden by the location of the crucifixion fits well with the archaeology. Gethsemane means “oil press” (i.e., press for olives) and is perfectly located in the narrative on the Mount of Olives, which is mentioned in the Gospels as well as numerous other sources (Many Olive trees today grow in this region). However, nowhere do the Gospel writers draw attention to the meaning of Gethsemane and how it particularly suited the location, they just knew.

Botanical 

The Gospels mention an array of botanical terms, many of which could fit with anywhere round the Mediterranean. Figs, vines, and wheat grew in every country and do not help us pin down the context of the narratives. However, Jesus’s saying about how the Pharisees were careful to tithe their mint, dill, and cumin (Matthew 23:23) shows specific knowledge of the rabbinic debates about tithing of dill and cumin (yes it’s definitely a thing!).

Another great piece of knowledge is where Luke records that the tax collector Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore tree in Jericho (Luke 19:4). The relevant species, ficus sycomorus, did not grow in northern Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece, Turkey), and in fact lacks natural pollinators in those countries.  But this tree was characteristic of Jericho, according to the second-century rabbi Abba Shaul. How did the author know there were sycamores in Jericho? The simple explanation is that he had either been there or spoken to someone who had and this further helps correlate with the independant facts presented here.

Source: J. Galil and D, Eisikowitch, “On Pollination Ecology of Ficus Sycomorus in East Africa”, 
Ecology 49, p260

Local language

There is evidence for the use of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic in Palestine at the time of Jesus. 

Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9–10, and John 12:13 record the crowd near Passover time calling out “hosanna” to Jesus, and Matthew 21:15 even states that this cry was later taken up by children. The word originally meant “save” and came from Psalm 118:25. The Gospels’ use of this word is highly appropriate since it came from near the climax of six psalms sung during Passover. However, two further points deserve note. 

  1.  In the Gospels hosanna is not used in a sense of “save.” The expressions “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10) and “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9, 15) do not make much sense if the word still means “save.” It is clearly a word the crowd likes, but it has shifted to express celebration. This shift of the meaning of hosanna shows up in later Jewish sources. Thus, the writers show knowledge not only of this word’s use by Jews at a particular time but also of its development over time. 
  2. In the Gospels, hosanna has a different form from that in the original Hebrew, which was hoshianna. The s is used for sh simply because Greek cannot express the Hebrew sh sound. But the omission of the i sound represents a linguistic change over time, reflecting the Hebrew at the time of the New Testament, not when the psalm was written. So the Gospel writers have the word exactly as it was pronounced in the first century despite this is not the sort of knowledge any particular author could obtain merely by reading other texts.

Weather

Elsewhere in undesigned coincidences the feeding of the 5,000 has been mentioned, but it also reveals more detail than at first glance. In Mark 6:39 we are told the grass is green. John 6:10 we are told there is much grass. Why is this detail significant? Well why would the grass be green? This is very specific knowledge for this region. You wouldn’t get this living hundreds of miles away and when you consider the precipitation, grass wouldn’t grow all year around and certainly not much grass. Also this is around the time of Passover which is in April, the end of a rainy season and the best chance for long grasses. 

Name records 

If I asked if there were any Michaels in a room of a few hundreds, likely there is one because in the 1970’s there were about 4% of all children named Michael. A very common name. The name Jacob is over 100 times more popular than it was in 1967 compared to 2007. Names change in frequency as they did back then. Would you be able to get the frequency of names right for France 50 years ago? Or even 20 years ago?
Well there was an archaeological study study done into how Jewish names in Palestine are different from elsewhere based on a study of 3,000 names. Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the eyewitnesses (p67-97) examined the work of Tal Ilan [Mohr Siebeck, 2002] and used Ilan’s data when investigating the biblical use of names. Ilan assembled a lexicon of all the recorded names used by the Jews of Palestine between 330 BC and AD 200. She examined the writings of Josephus, the texts of the New Testament, documents from the Judean desert and Masada, and the earliest rabbinic works of the period. She even examined ossuary (funeral-tomb) inscriptions from Jerusalem. Ilan included the New Testament writings in her study as well. She discovered that the most popular men’s names in Palestine (in the time span that encompassed the gospel accounts) were Simon and Joseph. The most popular women’s names were Mary and Salome. You may recognise these names from the gospel accounts. As it turns out, when Bauckham examined all the names discovered by Ilan, he found that the New Testament narratives reflect nearly the same percentages found in all the documents Ilan examined:

The most popular names found in the Gospels just happen to be the most popular names found in Palestine in the first century. This is even more strikingly similar when you compare the ancient popular Palestinian Jewish names with the ancient popular Egyptian Jewish names:

If the gospel writers were simply guessing about the names they were using in their accounts, they happened to guess with remarkable accuracy. Many of the popular Jewish names in Palestine were different from the popular names in Egypt, Syria, or Rome. [R. Baukham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, P192-193] This is a remarkable detail that a forger could easily get wrong, especially post-70AD when modern Jewish Palestinian Jerusalem was destroyed.

What Names Tell Us 

By far the simplest explanation is that the Gospel authors were able to give an authentic pattern of names in their narrative because they were reliably reporting what people were actually called. Given that names are also hard to remember, the authentic pattern of names in the Gospels suggests that their testimony is of high quality. After all, if they have correctly remembered the less memorable details—the names of individuals—then they should have had no difficulty in remembering the more memorable outline of events.

Disambiguating speech

When you see the addition of a descriptor, you can be sure that the name being amended is probably common to the region or time in history. We see this throughout the gospel accounts. The gospel writers introduce us to Simon “Peter,” Simon “the Zealot,” Simon “the Tanner,” Simon “the Leper,” and Simon “of Cyrene.” The name Simon was so common to the area of Palestine in the first century that the gospel writers had to add descriptors to differentiate one Simon from another. This is something we would expect to see if the gospel writers were truly present in Palestine in the first century and familiar with the common names of the region (and the need to better describe those who possessed these popular names). Jesus (Hebrew: Joshua) was one of these popular first-century names in Palestine, ranking sixth among men’s names. For this reason, Jesus was one of those names that often required an additional descriptor for clarity’s sake. Interestingly, the gospel writers themselves (when acting as narrators) didn’t use additional descriptors for Jesus, even though they quoted characters within the narrative who did. Matthew, for example, repeatedly referred to Jesus as simply “Jesus” when describing what Jesus did or said. But when quoting others who used Jesus’s name, Matthew quoted them identifying Jesus as “Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” “Jesus the Galilean,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Jesus who was called Christ,” “Jesus who was crucified.” Why the difference? Matthew, as the narrator of history, simply called Jesus by His first name over the course of many chapters. His readers were already familiar with the person of Jesus Matthew introduced early in his account. But Matthew accurately recorded the way we would expect people to identify Jesus in the context of the first century. Matthew appears to be acting merely as an eyewitness recorder of facts, limiting himself to “Jesus” when he is doing the talking, but accurately reporting the way he heard others refer to Jesus.

Bauckham highlights a further feature, which is the ambiguity that arises when so many individuals share the same name, for example, Simon. He documents eleven different ways that ambiguity was avoided. Common ways of removing ambiguity included adding an element such as a father’s name, a profession, or a place of origin. This is what we find in the Gospels: disambiguators are used with the most common names and not with the less common ones

The most common name for Palestinian Jewish males was Simon, so the Simons we have in the Gospels are often introduced with a disambiguator, such as Simon Peter (Mark 3:16), Simon the Zealot (Mark 3:18), Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3), and Simon the Cyrenian (Mark 15:21)—whose son’s ossuary, incidentally, may well have been discovered. Likewise Mary was the most common female name, and Marys are therefore disambiguated, as in “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph” (Matthew 27:56).

This level of knowledge of naming patterns has implications for the authorship of the Gospels. Someone living outside the land would not likely give people the right names. However, the Gospels have four different authors, each one of whom has managed to present us with a credible array of Palestinian Jewish names. What is more, they have disambiguated the most common names for that land even though in another land those same names were not so common as to require disambiguation.

The real contrast can be seen in say, the list of disciples. The rankings with the names here:

The names of the twelve apostles are these: ,

  • Simon [1], who is called Peter
  • Andrew [>99] his brother
  • James [11] the son of Zebedee
  • John [5] his brother
  • Philip [61=] 
  • Bartholomew [50=]; 
  • Thomas [>99]
  • Matthew [9] the tax collector
  • James [11] the son of Alphaeus 
  • Thaddaeus [39=]; 
  • Simon [1] the Zealot, 
  • Judas [4] Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:2–4)

We see immediately that the more popular names, like Simon, Judas, Matthew, and James, have disambiguators, or, in the case of John, have clear contextual disambiguation (the name of his father). Disambiguators are used for the most popular eleven names. On the other hand, we have several names that, on Bauckham’s rankings, are tied for thirty-ninth or lower in frequency: Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, Philip, and Thomas, which does not even make the top ninety-nine names. None of these have disambiguators.

The disambiguation of names occurs not only in narrative but also in speech. Consider the references to John the Baptist in Matthew 14:1–11:

At that time Herod the Tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.

Matthew 14:1–11

In the above passage John the Baptist is named five times. Twice he is called John the Baptist and three times simply known as John. The three uses of John are by the narrator, and the two uses of John the Baptist are by a character in the narrative. There is a certain logic to this. If Herod had really heard about Jesus and said to his courtiers, “This is John,” their reply would naturally have been “Which John?” It was the fifth most common name in Palestine, according to Bauckham’s figures. Therefore, Herod would have needed to specify which John he meant. Matthew duly reports that this is what the Tetrarch did (14:2). However, in verses 3 and 4 the identity of the person discussed is already clear. Therefore, it is sufficient for the narrator simply to speak of “John.” Then, in verse 8, Herodias’s daughter is reported to have asked for the head of John the Baptist in response to Herod’s offer of a special favor. Here she names him in full: “John the Baptist.” Imagine if she had not! How would anyone have known which John to behead? In verse 10 the narrator reports that Herod sent and beheaded “John.” (The one he required!)

Geography & locations

This is some of the data showing the knowledge the gospel authors had of the local region taken from Peter J Williams Can We Trust the Gospels.

Gospel writers’ references to towns 
Gospel writers’ references to regions 
Gospel writers’ references to other places 

These lists, of course, do not show that the Gospels are not largely fictional. The information in the lists, however, would be extremely surprising if we were to think of the Gospel writers as having lived in other countries, such as Egypt, Italy, Greece, or Turkey, and having made up stories about Jesus. The lists show the following:

  1.  All writers display knowledge of a range of localities from well known, through lesser known, to obscure. 
  2. No Gospel writer gains all his knowledge from the other Gospels, since each contains unique information. 
  3. All writers show a variety of types of geographical information.

The four Gospels demonstrate familiarity with the geography of the places they write about. In total, they mention twenty-six towns: sixteen each in Matthew and Luke and thirteen each in Mark and John. Among the towns listed are not only well known places—like the religious capital, Jerusalem—but also small villages, such as Bethany (all four Gospels) and Bethphage (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In John we find numerous minor villages mentioned: Aenon, Cana, Ephraim, Salim, and Sychar. It is worth reflecting on how such knowledge could be obtained. In principle, one might get it through personal experience, reading, or hearing. However, it does not seem that the Gospel writers could have simply obtained their information from reading. No known sources hold together the particular set of information they have; and, besides, we would have to suppose that they undertook a level of literary research quite unparalleled in ancient history. 

If these pieces of information result from hearing, then the reports they heard must have been fairly precise—concerned with stories not merely for their message but also for specific details. Thus, it seems that the authors received the information either from their experience or from detailed hearing. If anyone were inserting geographical details to make the story look authentic, he would have had to be very thorough. This is not at all the behavior we would expect from four different authors writing independently. We may also look at the frequency with which locations are mentioned within the narratives (see table 3.5). These are, of course, greater than the number of individual locations named, since many places are mentioned repeatedly. In comparison, when you look at Gnostic texts existing later, you can really notice the lack of such details where generally You’ll get Jerusalem and perhaps another location, but nothing like the depths of the Gospels.

We see variation within the types of geographical names they mention. It is a pattern more likely to reflect the fact that the Gospel writers were not trying to insert place names to make their stories look authentic. The even distribution of place names in the four Gospels is unlikely to be the result of each of the four writers making a deliberate effort to spread names out, but is exactly the sort of pattern that might occur through unconscious behavior, recording places naturally when relevant to their stories. The similar frequencies may in fact testify to a shared culture or pattern of telling stories, but certainly does not result from collusion.

Accusation: Mark doesn’t know what he’s talking about geographically 

The accusation has been made that apparently Mark and his geography is confused (Which would fault Peter, the bearer of the information who claims to be a fisherman). Mark mentions many towns and names with most of Marks stories seem to be located fairly precisely but not quite as precise of John. Matthew is said to have used Mark as a Source as is Luke. So hypothetically, if two Gospels did rely on Mark hypothetically, this would be problematic. 

Cognitive maps

The scholar Richard Baukham in his research has explored the mental maps of first century Judaic fishermen called cognitive maps. These are like maps that we use everyday, we have our own ones like journeys to work, your local area. You may not visualise it like google maps, but you have a clear understanding of where somewhere is and how far. You see the maps of antiquity would look very different to today, nevermind their mental maps.

Baukham tells us that the problem in scholarship is that scholars have visualised Marks geography in cartographic terms (relating to the science or practice of drawing maps). They visualise Galilee the way they do in modern maps, however this is not how a fisherman like Peter would’ve visualised his world of Capernaum, he would not of seen a physical map. 

Peter would have a cognitive map, primarily based on his first hand experience of the area and since the 1960s, many geographers have been interested in mental maps—how people constructing the world around them for themselves. New Testament scholarship is a few decades behind on this business and neither have most historians (this is a relatively new area of study!). 

So how might Peter’s cognitive map look like in the first century? If you drew one (maybe give it a try) chances are, it would centre on your home outward to different locations. You don’t need to know where north is, just your perceptive north. I think of my home—my maps to the local Tesco’s or Church are two separate routes, but there are lots of roads outside of my cognitive map that I wouldn’t charter. Peter’s would be the same.

Fishermans map

Mark gives us a fisherman’s perspective of Capernum from Peter. The first half of Mark’s gospel is based around the Sea of Galilee. Galilee stretches far west of the lake, it’s only from the other gospels we learn Jesus visited places such as Cana.

The mental map of a Capernum fisherman

The settlements Peter knew would be where he could sell his fish, where relatives lived or where other fisherman’s relatives lived. The best place to catch fish was near Capernaum. Bauckham tells us a Musht was a fish taken to market that would be best farmed around Capernaum and around Bethsaida you would fish for the Galician Sardine. So a Carpenaum fisherman would know the north east well but wouldn’t likely land there often, plus the territories of the Gerasenes were gentile (non-Jewish) and wouldn’t want to be there as Jews. Fisherman would have strong knowledge of the seas spending their lives on them, not just the locations around them, but also the nature of the sea. They would know that a strong storm in this teacup of a lake could kill people and watch for the signs of it. Even today this can still happen.

Sea words

The word for Sea is mentioned 17 times in Mark’s gospel and way ahead of the other gospels with this information (remember Mark is much shorter with regards to frequency). Details such as “cast net” as opposed to just throwing out a net are made clear in the original language. You may not think of Galilee as a sea, in fact we would today call it a lake, however, in Peter’s world, it was his sea as he was not a man of the Mediterranean.

Also why is the fisherman’s map based north of Magdala? We know why they wouldn’t venture Gerasenes side. Well it turns out that Magdala was a busy city there for processing and preparing the catch. Capernum would have served the local communities with Magdala looking beyond to a larger market.

Journeys

There are six journeys on the lake in Mark’s gospel around the shores of Galilee. Four of which are from one side of the lake to the other. Critical scholars have often 

Assumed when Mark mentions “they sailed across the sea” that meant west to east, but why assume such information? The two sides might divide differently for someone like Peter. It might be more like Gennesaret to Bethsaida with Capernum roughly in the middle. The other side of the sea would start just south of Bethsaida and would stretch indefinitely south down the gentile coast. This puts Bethsaida the same side as Carpernum which makes sense of the journeys Mark describes.

So the 1st journey is from the country of Capernum to the Gerasenes with the 2nd journey being the return trip.

With the 3rd journey, Bethsaida is likely the starting place for this journey and they are attempting to get away from the crowds and we are told in the Gospels that the crowd followed by land, que feeding of the 5,000. The two fish mentioned in the Gospels are likely sardines from Bethsaida.

The 4th journey is following the feeding of the 5,000 where Jesus tells them to cross to the other side (Bethsaida) while he stays behind. However this journey ends when they see Jesus walking on the water. Following the story they then end up at Gennesaret, so Jesus appears to have rerouted them! Likely the weather has blown them off course and Gennesaret is now more accessible.

5th journey starts somewhere in Gentile territory on the eastern shore but does not as most scholars assume cross the lake, Mark doesn’t say he crossed the lake from one side to the other. The location of Dalmanutha is somewhere we know little of, a small place of particular note no other Gospel mentions. Many have assumed Dalmanutha is on the west side of the lake, however Richard Baukham has proposed it’s positioning on the east side of the lake, south of Bethsaida. 

The 6th journey in Mark’s Gospel does say it is from one side to the other ending in Bethsaida but defining the two sides as Baukham has puts Bethsaida on the other side in Peters cognitive map. 

What Baukham has done is combined all six journeys in the context of Peter and constructing the routes based on his thinking and not a sky view/paper map we would have today. 

In conclusion, the world of Jesus’ Galilean ministry according to Mark is the world of a Capernaum fisherman focused on and around the northern part of the Lake of Galilee. The key to the relatively detailed geographical information in this part of Mark’s narrative lies in turning from the modern Atlas to an attempt to envisage the functional map which a capernaum fisherman would have in mind. This, in quite a brilliant way, is a confirmation that Peter is the source of Mark’s Gospel and not the hopelessness of Mark’s knowledge of Galilee and some would propose. See the Case article on Mark’s Gospel for more on the Peter-Mark connection.

Later forgeries in contrast

How do the gnostic gospels do with names? Not very well at all and they chose very unpopular names.

The second-century Gospel of Thomas is the most informed and mentions James the Just, Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Salome, Simon Peter, and, of course, Thomas. However, the Gospel of Mary, also from the second century, has just five names: Andrew, Levi, Mary, Peter, and the Savior. Though Mary was the most common Palestinian Jewish female name, the Gospel of Mary does not even tell us which of the various Marys was supposed to be the author. Notice also that it is written at a stage sufficiently removed from Jesus that it no longer even called him Jesus by name. The term the Saviour is obviously a later substitution. From the same century we also have the Gospel of Judas. This has just two names suitable for Palestinian Jewish men: Judas and Jesus! However, it introduces a great many names, not at all Palestinian in nature, which seem to be a collection of sometimes garbled combinations of names from the Greek Bible and contemporary mysticism: Adam, Adamas, Adonaios, Barbelo, Eve, Zoe, Gabriel, Galila, Harmathoth, Michael, Nebro, Saklas, Seth, Sophia, Yaldabaoth, and Yobel.

We can also see that later documents also tend to loose Jesus as a name with only two retaining the name.

The next parameter to observe is the usage of the name Jesus in these Gospels.. again for first century ones do best with second century documents following. 

The Gospel of Peter and Mary don’t even mention the name Jesus, the name drops out completely?! This is a later development In the 4 gospels, the name Jesus is by far the most prominent collection of Jesus names with Thomas as well (We have plenty of other reasons to discredit Thomas, it doesn’t win on name usage, it indicates it’s an earlier heretical document).

What was the founder of Christianity called in non-Christian accounts?

  1. Tacitus, Annals 15:44: Christians = Christus
  2. Pliny, Letters 10.96: Christians = Christus
  3. Josephus, Antiquities, 20.200: A Jewish writer who knows a bit more distinguishes the name = Jesus, who was called Christ

The name that predominates through the non-christian literature is called Christ, that’s why it’s called Christianity. Contrast this with the gospels. 

  1. Parents: 
    1. Mary (1)
    2. Joseph (2)
  2. Children: 
    1. Jesus (6)
    2. James (11) 
    3. Joseph (2); 
    4. Simon (1); 
    5. Judas (4)

For Paul, the name Christ predominates over Jesus. All these Gospels were probably written 50–150 years after the four Gospels, 

They also see that they contain much less geographical information.

  • The Gospel of Thomas mentions Judaea once, but names no other location. 
  • The Gospel of Judas names no locations. 
  • The Gospel of Philip names Jerusalem (four times), Nazara (once, a legitimate alternative spelling for Nazareth), and the Jordan (once). 

No special knowledge was required to have heard of it. Jordan was the main river. Nazareth became famous because of Jesus, who was often called Jesus the Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth. Though the Gospel of Philip is the least unimpressive of these Gospels, none of what is found in any of these Gospels gives a sense of familiarity with the places Jesus lived in or visited.

Towns & cities

Gospel of Phillip has a woeful amount of these small towns and they are the most likely known. However, what is hilarious is this Gospel thinks Nazareth is Jesus’ middle name! We know Jerusalem was the capital so really they only have 1 town, one known even to Romans.

The Gospel of Peter and the Savior books Get 1 town: Jerusalem, the capital

What about the other 13 Apocryphal Gospels combined how many do they get? None, zilch, nothing.

So when you combine all of the apocryphal gospels you get 1 town! Jerusalem! A town name you could get thousands of miles away from Rome if you wanted! My knowledge of towns in South Korea is terrible… Seoul is the capital..that’s all I know.. (perhaps Gangnam after the song made it popular!) Do you know any countries where this is all you know on their town names? (Try picking a country which doesn’t have popular football teams like Zimbabwe, Singapore, Venezuela or Bolivia! It’s easier now that we have them than it was for them back then.) even today, how many modern towns in Israel do you know the name of? 

Some additional data.. 

So you see there is a place name drop off in data dramatically in chart 2

What if you did place names as a proportion of length?

The gospels have a surprising evenness of names and if they record the narrative naturally this could certainly happen.

Scholarly fact lists

John (Blomberg)

John appears to be an eyewitness because he includes intimate details about numerous private conversations of Jesus (see John 3, 4, 8–10, and 13–17). But there’s actually much more powerful evidence for John being an eyewitness—evidence like that in the book of Acts (see the part on Colin Hemer in Luke-Acts). 

Craig Blomberg has done a detailed study of the Gospel of John. Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel examines John’s Gospel verse by verse and identifies numerous historical details. Since John describes events confined to the Holy Land, his Gospel doesn’t contain quite as many geographical, topographical, and political items as does Acts. However, an impressive number of historically confirmed or historically probable details are contained in John’s Gospel. Many of these details have been confirmed to be historical by archaeology and/ or non-Christian writings, and some of them are historically probable because they would be unlikely inventions of a Christian writer. Here’s a list of some of them

1. Archaeology confirms the use of stone water jars in New Testament times [John 2:6].

2. Given the early Christian tendency towards asceticism, the wine miracle is an unlikely invention [2:8].

3. Archaeology confirms the proper place of Jacob’s Well [4:6].

4. Josephus [Wars of the Jews 2.232] confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time [4:9].

5. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee. [There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum.] [4:46, 49, 51].

6. “Went up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem [5:1].

7. Archaeology confirms the proper location of Bethesda [5:2]. [Excavations between 1914 and 1938 uncovered that pool and found it to be just as John described it. Since that structure did not exist after the Romans destroyed the city in A.D. 70, it’s unlikely any later non-eyewitness could have described it in such vivid detail. Moreover, John says that this structure “is in Jerusalem,” implying that he’s writing before 70].

8. Jesus’ own testimony being invalid without the Father is an unlikely Christian invention [5:31]; a later redactor would be eager to highlight Jesus’ divinity and would probably make his witness self-authenticating.

9. The crowds wanting to make Jesus king reflects the well-known nationalist fervor of early first-century Israel [6:15].

10. Sudden and severe squalls are common on the Sea of Galilee [6:18].

11. Christ’s command to eat his flesh and drink his blood would not be made up [6:53].

12. The rejection of Jesus by many of his disciples is also an unlikely invention [6:66].

13. The two predominant opinions of Jesus, one that Jesus was a “good man” and the other that he “deceives people,” would not be the two choices John would have made up [7:12]; a later Christian writer would have probably inserted the opinion that Jesus was God.

14. The charge of Jesus being demon-possessed is an unlikely invention [7:20].

15. The use of “Samaritan” to slander Jesus befits the hostility between Jews and Samaritans [8:48].

16. Jewish believers wanting to stone Jesus is an unlikely invention [8:31, 59].

17. Archaeology confirms the existence and location of the Pool of Siloam [9:7].

18. Expulsion from the synagogue by the Pharisees was a legitimate fear of the Jews; notice that the healed man professes his faith in Jesus only after he is expelled from the synagogue by the Pharisees [9:13-39], at which point he has nothing to lose. This rings of authenticity.

19. The healed man calling Jesus a “prophet” rather than anything more lofty suggests the incident is unembellished history [9:17].

20. During a winter feast, Jesus walked in Solomon’s Colonnade, which was the only side of the temple area shielded from the cold winter east wind [10:22-23]; this area is mentioned several times by Josephus.

21. Fifteen stadia [less than two miles] is precisely the distance from Bethany to Jerusalem [11:18].

22. Given the later animosity between Christians and Jews, the positive depiction of Jews comforting Martha and Mary is an unlikely invention [11:19].

23. The burial wrappings of Lazarus were common for first-century Jewish burials [11:44]; it is unlikely that a fiction writer would have included this theologically irrelevant detail.

24. The precise description of the composition of the Sanhedrin [11:47]: it was composed primarily of chief priests [largely Sadducees] and Pharisees during Jesus’ ministry.

25. Caiaphas was indeed the high priest that year [11:49]; we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D. 18-37.

26. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim [11:54] near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.

27. Ceremonial cleansing was common in preparation for the Passover [11:55].

28. Anointing of a guest’s feet with perfume or oil was sometimes performed fro special guests in the Jewish culture (12:3); Mary’s wiping of Jesus’ feet with her hair is an unlikely invention [in easily could have been perceived as a sexual advance].

29. Waving of palm branches was a common Jewish practice for celebrating military victories and welcoming national rulers [12:13].

30. Foot washing is first-century Palestine was necessary because of dust and open footwear; Jesus performing this menial task is an unlikely invention [it was a task not even Jewish slaves were required to do] [13:4]; Peter’s insistence that he get a complete bath also fits with his impulsive personality [there’s certainly no purpose for inventing this request].

31. Peter asks John to ask Jesus a question [13:24]; there’s no reason to insert this detail if this is fiction; Peter could have asked Jesus himself.

32. “The Father is greater than I” is an unlikely invention [14:28], especially if John wanted to make up the deity of Christ [as the critics claim he did].

33. Use of the vine as a metaphor makes good sense in Jerusalem [15:1]; vineyards were in the vicinity of the temple, and, according to Josephus, the temple gates had a golden vine carved on them.

34. Use of the childbirth metaphor [16:21] is thoroughly Jewish; is has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls [1QH 11:9-10].

35. The standard Jewish posture for prayers was looking “toward heaven” [17:1].

36. Jesus’ admission that he has gotten his words from the Father [17:7-8] would not be included if John were inventing the idea that Christ was God.

37. No specific reference to fulfilled Scripture is given regarding the predicted betrayal by Judas; a fiction writer or later Christian redactor probably would have identified the Old Testament Scripture to which Jesus was referring [17:12].

38. The name of the high priest’s servant [Malachus], who had his ear cut off, is an unlikely invention [18:10].

39. Proper identification of Caiaphas’s father-in-law, Annas, who was the high priest from A.D. 6-15 [18:13]-the appearance before Annas is believable because of the family connection and the fact the former high priests maintained great influence.

40. John’s claim that the high priest knew him [18:15] seems historical; invention of this claim serves no purpose and would expose John to being discredited by the Jewish authorities.

41. Anna’s questions regarding Jesus’ teachings and disciples make good historical sense; Annas would be concerned about potential civil unrest and the undermining of Jewish religious authority [18:19].

42. Identification of a relative of Malchus [the high priest’s servant who had his ear cut off] is a detail that John would not have made up [18:26]; it has no theological significance and could only hurt John’s credibility if he were trying to pass off fiction as the truth.

43. There are good historical reasons to believe Pilate’s reluctance to deal with Jesus [18:28ff.]: Pilate had to walk a fine line between keeping the Jews happy and keeping Rome happy; any civil unrest could mean his job [the Jews knew of his competing concerns when they taunted him, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar,” 19:12]; the Jewish philosopher Philo records the Jews successfully pressuring Pilate in a similar way to get their demands met [To Gaius 38.301-302].

44. A surface similar to the Stone Pavement has been identified near the Antonia Fortress [19:13] with markings that may indicate soldiers played games there [as in the gambling for his clothes in 19:24].

45. The Jews exclaiming, “We have no king but Caesar!” [19:15] would not be invented given the Jewish hatred for the Romans, especially if John had been written after A.D. 70. [This would be like New Yorkers today proclaiming “We have not king but Osama Bin Laden!”]

46. The crucifixion of Jesus [19:17-30] is attested to by non-Christian sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, and the Jewish Talmud.

47. Crucifixion victims normally carried their own crossbeams [19:17].

48. Josephus confirms that crucifixion was an execution technique employed by the Romans [Wars of the Jews 1.97; 2.305; 7.203]; moreover, a nail-spiked anklebone of a crucified man was found in Jerusalem in 1968.

49. The execution site was likely outside ancient Jerusalem, as John says [19:17]; this would ensure that the sacred Jewish city would not be profaned by the presence of a dead body [Deut. 21:23].

50. After the spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, out came what appeared to be blood and water [19:34]. Today we know that a crucified person might have a watery fluid father in the sac around the heart called the pericardium. John would not have known of this medical condition, and could not have recorded this phenomenon unless he was an eyewitness or had access to eyewitness testimony.

51. Joseph of Arimathea [19:38], a member of the Sanhedrin who buries Jesus, is an unlikely invention.

52. Josephus [Antiquities 17.199] confirms that spices [19:39] were used for royal burials; this detail shows that Nicodemus was not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead, and it also demonstrates that John was not inserting later Christian faith into the text.

53. Mary Magdalene [20:1], a formerly demon-possessed woman [Luke 8:2], would not be invented as the empty tomb’s first witness; in fact, women in general would not be presented as witnesses in a made-up story.

54. Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener [20:15] is not a detail that a later writer would have made up [especially a writer seeking to exalt Jesus].

55. “Rabboni” [20:16], the Aramaic for “teacher,” seems an authentic detail because it’s another unlikely invention for a writer trying to exalt the risen Jesus.

56. Jesus stating that he is returning to “my God and your God” [20:17] does not fit with a later writer bent on creating the idea that Jesus was God.

57. One hundred fifty-three fish [21:11] is a theologically irrelevant detail, but perfectly consistent with the tendency of fisherman to want to record and then brag about large catches.

58. The fear of the disciples to ask Jesus who he was [21:12] is an unlikely concoction; it demonstrates natural human amazement at the risen Jesus and perhaps the fact that there was something different about the resurrection body.

59. The cryptic statement from Jesus about the fate of Peter is not clear enough to draw certain theological conclusions [21:18]; so why would John make it up? It’s another unlikely invention. [1]

When we couple John’s knowledge of Jesus’ personal conversations with these nearly sixty historically confirmed/ historically probable details, Johns eyewitness case is significantly strengthened with all the data he was privy to. 

Acts (Hermer)

Luke includes the most eyewitness details. (While Luke may not have been an eyewitness to the Resurrection itself, he certainly was an eyewitness to many New Testament events.) In the second half of Acts, for example, Luke displays an incredible array of knowledge of local places, names, environmental conditions, customs, and circumstances that befit only an eyewitness contemporary of the time and events which we’ve covered previously. 

Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse. Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research. As you read the following list, keep in mind that Luke did not have access to modern-day maps or nautical charts. 

1. the natural crossing between correctly named ports [Acts 13:4-5]

2. the proper port [Perga] along the direct destination of a ship crossing from Cyprus [13:13]

3. the proper location of Lycaonia [14:6]

4. the unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra [14:6]

5. the correct language spoken in Lystra-Lycaonian [14:11]

6. two gods known to be so associated-Zeus and Hermes [14:12]

7. the proper port, Attalia, which returning travelers would use [14:25]

8. the correct order of approach to Derbe and then Lystra from the Cilician Gates [16:1; cf. 15:41]

9. the proper form of the name Troas [16:8]

10. the place of a conspicuous sailors’ landmark, Samothrace [12:14]

11. the proper description of Philippi as a Roman colony [16:12]

12. the right location fro the river [Gangites] near Philippi [12:13]

13. the proper association of Thyatira as a center of dyeing [16:14]

14. correct designations for the magistrates of the colony [16:22]

15. the proper locations [Amphipolis and Apollonia] where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey [17:1]

16. the presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica [17:1]

17. the proper term [“politarchs”] used of the magistrates there [17:6]

18. the correct implication that sea travel is the most convenient way of reaching Athens, with the favoring east winds of summer sailing [17:14-15]

19. the abundant presence of images in Athens [17:16]

20. the reference to a synagogue in Athens [17:17]

21. the depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora [17:17]

22. the use of the correct Athenian slang word for Paul [spermologos, 17:18] as well as for the court [Areios pagos, 17:19]

23. the proper characterization of the Athenian character [17:21]

24. an altar to an “unknown god” [17:23]

25. the proper reaction of Greek philosophers, who denied the bodily resurrection [17:32]

26. Areopagites as the correct title for a member of the court [17:34]

27. A Corinthian synagogue [18:4]

28. the correct designation of Gallio as proconsul, resident in Corinth [18:12]

29. the bema [judgement seat], which overlooks Corinth’s forum [18:16ff.]

30. the name Tyrannus as attested from Ephesus in first-century inscriptions [19:9]

31. well-known shrines and images of Artemis [19:24]

32. the well attested “great goddess Artemis” [19:27]

33. that the Ephesian theater was the meeting place of the city [19:29]

34. the correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate in Ephesus [19:35]

35. the proper title of honor neokoros, authorized by the Romans [19:35]

36. the correct name to designate the goddess [19:37]

37. the proper term for those holding court [19:38]

38. use of plural anthupatori, perhaps a remarkable reference to the fact that two men were conjointly exercising the functions of proconsul at this time [19:38]

39. the “regular” assembly, as the precise phrase is attested elsewhere [19:39]

40. use of precise ethnic designation, beroiaios [20:4]

41. employment of the ethnic term Asianos [20:4]

42. the implied recognition of the strategic importance assigned to this city of Troas [20:7ff.]

43. the danger of the coastal trip in this location [20:13]

44. the correct sequence of places [20:14-15]

45. the correct name of the city as a neuter plural [Patara] [21:1]

46. the appropriate route passing across the open sea south of Cyprus favored by persistent northwest winds [21:3]

47. the suitable distance between these cities [21:8]

48. a characteristically Jewish act of piety [21:24]

49. the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area [21:28] [Archaeological discoveries and quotations from Josephus confirm that Gentiles could be executed for entering the temple area. One inscription reads: “Let no Gentile enter within the balustrade and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his consequent death.”]

50. the permanent stationing of a Roman cohort [chiliarch]at Antonia to suppress any disturbance at festival times [21:31]

51. the flight of steps used by the guards [21:31, 35]

52. the common way to obtain Roman citizenship at this time [22:28]

53. the tribune being impressed with Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship [22:29]

54. Ananias being high priest at this time [23:2]

55. Felix being governor at this time [23:34]

56. the natural shopping point on the way to Caesarea [23:31]

57. whose jurisdiction Cilicia was in at the time [23:34]

58. the provincial penal procedure of the time [24:1-9]

59. the name Porcius Festus, which agrees precisely with that given by Josephus [24:27]

60. the right of appeal for Roman citizens [25:11]

61. the correct legal formula [25:18]

62. the characteristic form of reference to the emperor at the time [25:26]

63. the best shipping lanes at the time [27:5]

64. the common bonding of Cilicia and Pamphylia [27:4]

65. the principal port to find a ship sailing to Italy [27:5-6]

66. the slow passage to Cnidus, in the fact of the typical northwest wind [27:7]

67. the right route to sail, in view of the winds [27:7]

68. the locations of Fair Havens and the neighboring site of Lasea [27:8]

69. Fair Havens as a poorly sheltered roadstead [27:7]

70. a noted tendency of a south wind in these climes to back suddenly to a violent northeaster, the well-known gregale [27:13]

71. the nature of a square-rigged ancient ship, having no option but to be driven before a gale [27:15]

72. the precise place and name of this island [27:16]

73. the appropriate maneuvers for the safety of the ship in its particular plight [27:16]

74. the fourteenth night-a remarkable calculation, based inevitably on a compounding of estimates and probabilities, confirmed in the judgement of experienced Mediterranean navigators [27:27]

75. the proper term of the time for the Adriatic [27:27]

76. the precise term [Bolisantes] for taking soundings, and the correct depth of the water near Malta [27:28]

77. a position that suits the probable line of approach of a ship released to run before an easterly wind [27:39]

78. the severe liability on guards who permitted a prisoner to escape [27:42]

79. the local people and superstitions of the day [28:4-6]

80. the proper title protos tes nesou [28:7]

81. Regium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry them through the strait [28:13]

82. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as correctly placed stopping places on the Appian Way [28:15]

83. appropriate means of custody with Roman soliders [28:16]

84. the conditions of imprisonment, living “at his own expense” [28:30-31]1

With these facts in mind, it seems reasonable to conclude that the author of Acts [who I believe was Luke, see the case article on Luke and Acts] was an eyewitness of the events recorded or at the very least had access to reliable eyewitnesses. 

Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White says, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . . . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.” (A.N. Sherman-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament)

Now, here’s where some get very uncomfortable. Luke reports a total of 35 miracles in the same book in which he records all 84 of these historically confirmed details. Several miracles of Paul are recorded in the second half of Acts. For example, Luke records that Paul: temporarily blinded a sorcerer (13:11); cured a man who was crippled from birth (14:8); exorcized an evil spirit from a possessed girl (16:18); “performed many miracles” that convinced many in the city of Ephesus to turn from sorcery to Jesus (19:11-20); raised a man from the dead who had died after falling out of a window during Paul’s long-winded lecture (20: 9-10); healed Publius’s father of dysentery, and healed numerous others who were sick on Malta (28: 8-9). All of these miracles are included in the same historical narrative that has been confirmed as authentic on 84 points. And the miracle accounts show no signs of embellishment or extravagance—they are told with the same levelheaded efficiency as the rest of the historical narrative. Now, why would Luke be so accurate with trivial details like wind directions, water depths, and peculiar town names, but not be accurate when it comes to important events like miracles? In light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records. As we have seen, such a bias is illegitimate. This is a theistic world where miracles are possible. So it makes much more sense to believe Luke’s miracle accounts than to discount them. 

William Paley’s 41 facts

In William Paley’s book “A View of the Evidences of Christianity,” Part II, chapter 6, he lists 41 facts confirmed in the New Testament. Of course, it is not an extensive list of every fact, however, it is a nice sample size of eternal facts they were able to get correct. When combined, they demonstrate a cumulative case the New Testament authors where intimately familiar with the culture of 1st century Judea.  

  1. Matthew 2:22  “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee”
  2. In this passage it is shown that Archelaus was ruling over Judea, but implied that he was not ruling over Galilee.
  3. Josephus tells us that Herod the Great, who ruled over all of Israel, appointed Archelaus to rule over just Judea
  4. Matthew said that Archelaus reigned, as king, which is backed by Josephus telling us that Herod the Great gave him the title of King. The same word the apostles used to describe Archelaus as king, Josephus used also
  5. Luke 1:3 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
    1. Herod the great decreed that his two sons were to be tetrarchs. One, Herod Antipas, to be over Galilee and Peraea, and the other, Philip, to be over Trachonitis.
    2. Josephus tells of how Herod Antipas was removed by the successor of Tiberius and that Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius
  6. Mark 6:17 “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.”
    1. Josephus tells of how Herod the tetrarch visited his brother, also Herod. He then fell in love with his brothers wife and wanted to marry her
    2. Josephus also says that Herodias was married to Herod, son of the Great, had a child, but then left him to be with Herod the tetrarch.
  7. Acts 12:1 “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.”
    1. Herod in this, addressed as Agrippa by Josephus, had not been referenced as a king until, as Josephus tells us, in the last three years of his life, Caligula crowned him King over the tetrarchie of Philip
  8. Acts 12:19-23 “And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”
    1. Josephus affirming quote: (Paraphrased)
      1. “He went to the city of Caesarea. Here he celebrated in honor of Caesar. On the second day of the shows, early in the morning, he came into the theatre, dressed in a robe of silver. The rays of the rising sun, reflected from such a splendid clothes, gave him a majestic appearance. They called him a god.The king neither reproved these persons, nor rejected the impious flattery. Immediately after this he was seized with pains in his bowels, extremely violent at the very first. He was carried his palace. These pains continually tormenting him, he died in five days’ time.”
  9. Acts 24:24 “After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.”
    1. Josephus affirming quote: (Paraphrased)
      1. “Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, when he had consented to be circumcised. But this marriage of Drusilla with Azizus ended when Felix, procurator of Judea, having had a sight of her, he loved her. She broke the laws of her country, and married Felix.”
  10. Acts 25:13 “Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.”
    1. Agrippa here is the son of Herod Agrippa, who was king over Judea. Agrippa was going to succeed his father when he died, but when that was going to happen, he was only seventeen and the emperor was persuaded not to allow it.
    2. Agrippa wasn’t king over Judea but he had many territories bordering it. He was referred to as king because of his exercise of power and his father. This is why he saluted Festus as king over Judea
  11. Acts 13:6 “When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence…”
    1. This verse shows that this false prophet was with the proconsul of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, who was under Claudius
    2. The Roman empire was in control of Cyprus until it had given it over to the proconsul
    3. That is why the apostles talk about how they went to the proconsul of Cyprus and are correct  
  12. Josephus also tells of how the power of life and death resided in the hands of the governor. However the Jews also had magistrates and councils.
    1. This idea is found in all gospels to the crucifixion of Jesus
  13. Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.”
    1. This peace comes from the fact that Caligula was trying to put his statue in the temple, so all the churches diverted their attention to this problem.
  14. Acts 21:30 “And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came to the chief captain of the band that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Then the chief captain came near, and took him and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and demanded who he was, and what he had done; and some cried one thing, and some another, among the multitude: and, when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.”
    1. In this passage there are soldiers at the castle, the stairs, adjoining to the temple
    2. Josephus’ affirming quote:
      1. “Antonia was situated at the angle of the western and northern porticoes of the outer temple. It was built upon a rock fifty cubits high, steep on all sides. On that side where it joined to the porticoes of the temple, there were stairs reaching to each portico, by which the guard descended; for there was always lodged here a Roman legion; and posting themselves in their armour in several places in the porticoes, they kept a watch on the people on the feast-days to prevent all disorders; for as the temple was a guard to the city, so was Antonia to the temple.”
  15.  Acts 4:1 “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them.”
    1. Here we have a person who has the title Captain of the Temple who, along with the priests and the sadducees, apprehended the apostles
    2. Josephus affirming quote:
      1. “And at the temple, Eleazer, the son of Ananias the high priest, a young man of a bold and resolute disposition, then captain, persuaded those who performed the sacred ministrations not to receive the gift or sacrifice of any stranger.”  
  16. Acts 25:12 “Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, ‘To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.’”
    1. Festus conferring with a council of other Roman officers was very usual in the situation according to Cicero’s speech against Verres
  17. Acts 16:13 “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer…”
    1. The noteworthy phrase of this passage is when it says that the riverside was where they were suppose to pray
    2. Philo talks about how early in the morning, many people flocked to the shores and, “lifted up their voice in one accord.”
    3. Josephus also tells of how there was a decree that any Jews that wanted to observe the sabbath must do so on the sea-side
  18. Acts 26:5 “They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the straightest part of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.”
    1. Josephus says that, “The Pharisees were reckoned the most religious of any of the Jews, and to be the most exact and skilful in explaining the laws.”
    2. The greek word for straight (found in Acts), and exact (said by Josephus) are the same.
  19. Mark 7:3-4 “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.”
    1. Affirming quote of Josephus:
      1. “The Pharisees have delivered up to the people many institutions, as received from the fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses.”
  20. Acts 23:8 “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
    1. Affirming quote of Josephus: (Paraphrased)
      1. “They (the Pharisees) believe every soul is immortal, but that the soul of the good only passes into another body, and that the soul of the wicked is punished with eternal punishment.” On the other hand, “It is the opinion of the Sadducees that souls perish with the bodies.”
  21. Acts 5:17 “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with indignation.”
    1. Josephus’ affirming quote:
      1. “ High priest of the Jews, forsook the Pharisees upon a disgust, and joined himself to the party of the Sadducees.”
  22. Luke 9:51 “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”
    1. Josephus’ affirming quote: (Paraphrased)
      1. “It was the custom of the Galileans, who went up to the holy city at the feasts, to travel through the country of Samaria. As they were in their journey, some inhabitants of the village called Ginaea, which lies on the borders of Samaria and the great plain, killed many of them.”
  23. John 4:20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
    1. Affirming quote of Josephus:
      1. “Commanding them to meet Him at mount Gerizim, which is by them (the Samaritans) esteemed the most sacred of all mountains.”
  24. Matthew 26:3 “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas…”
    1. Account of Josephus:
      1. “Gratus gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus. He, having enjoyed this honour not above a year, was succeeded by Joseph, who is also called Caiaphas.”
    2. Account of the removal of Caiaphas:
      1. “And having done these things he took away the priesthood from the high priest Joseph, who is called Caiaphas.”
  25. Acts 23:4 “Those who stood by said, ‘Would you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest…’”
    1. Upon questioning why Paul wouldn’t know that Ananias (who is the one spoken about) isn’t the high priest, it’s because he isn’t.
    2. Josephus tells us that he was rid of office and then when his successor was murdered by order of Felix, Ananias brought upon the responsibilities of High priest while not being one
  26. Matthew 26:59 “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony…”
    1. It is very strange to see Matthew say high priests in the plural form because there was only suppose to be one high priest.
    2. However, Josephus agreed:
      1. “Then might be seen the high priests themselves with ashes on their heads and their breasts naked.”
    3. This is because the high priest at the time, Caiaphas, and others (Annas) shared many of the same powers making them seem equal (Acts 4:6)
    4. Even in Luke 3:1 says that, “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests…”
      1. This aligns with Josephus in saying, “Quadratus sent two others of the most powerful men of the Jews, as also the high priests Jonathan and Ananias.”
  27. John 19:19-20 “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross.”
    1. Quote from Dio Cassius:
      1. “Having led him through the midst of the court or assembly, with a writing signifying the cause of his death, and afterwards crucifying him.”
    2. “And it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.”
      1. This was also usual for the Romans to do. Josephus’ quote: “Did ye not erect pillars with inscriptions on them, in the Greek and in our language?”
  28. Matthew 27: 26 “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”
    1. Josephus writes about this by saying:
      1. “Being beaten, they were crucified opposite to the citadel.”
      2. “Whom, having first scourged with whips, he crucified.”
  29. John 19:16 “And they took Jesus, and led him away; and he bearing his cross went forth.”
    1. Quote pertaining to Rome
      1. “Every kind of wickedness produces its own particular torment; just as every malefactor, when he is brought forth to execution, carries his own cross.” -Plutarch
  30. John 19:32 “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.”
    1. A secular writer notices the circumstance of breaking the legs
      1. “Eo pius, ut etiam vetus veterrimumque supplicium, patibulum, et cruribus suffringendis, primus removerit.” Note: This was translated to roughly for me to discern its meaning.  
  31. Acts 3:1 “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple, at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.”
    1. Josephus:
      1. “Twice every day, in the morning and at the ninth hour, the priests perform their, duty at the altar.”
  32. Acts 15:21 “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
    1. Quote of Josephus:
      1. “He (Moses) gave us the law, the most excellent of all institutions; nor did he appoint that it should be heard once only, or twice, or often, but that, laying aside all other works, we should meet together every week to hear it read, and gain a perfect understanding of it.”
  33. Acts 21:23 “Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads.”
    1. Josephus’ affirmation:
      1. “It is customary for those who have been afflicted with some distemper, or have laboured under any other difficulties, to make a vow thirty days before they offer sacrifices, to abstain from wine, and shave the hair of their heads.”
  34. 2 Corinthians 11:24 “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.”
    1. Affirmation from Josephus:
      1. “He that acts contrary hereto let him receive forty stripes from the officer.”
    2. Affirmation in Deuteronomy 25:3:
      1. “Forty stripes he may be given but not exceed”
    3. This shows that the author of Corinthians wasn’t guided by books but rather facts because his statement aligns with the customs with the time
  35. Luke 3:12 “Then came also tax-collectors to be baptized.”
    1. It is generally accepted that tax-collectors were Jewish even though they were under the Roman rule
    2. This is proven by a quote by Josephus:
      1. “But Florus not restraining these practices by his authority, the chief men of the Jews, among whom was John the publican, not knowing well what course to take, wait upon Florus and give him eight talents of silver to stop the building.”
  36. Acts 22:25 “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?”
    1. Referenced was latin that translated into:
      1. “This crime, it is a Roman citizen to be bound; crime beaten.”
      2. “Was beaten with rods, in the middle of the forum at Messana, a Roman citizen, so I judge no one at the same time groans, no other expression of that wretched man amid his sound of the blows, but the these things, I am a Roman citizen. “
    2. While somewhat applicable, Paley leaves it up to the reader to make the connection
  37. Acts 22:27 “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him (Paul), Tell me, Art thou a Roman? He said Yea.”
    1. The Roman citizenship was at one point a very high honor because of its great value, however Jews were becoming Roman citizens because its value was rapidly declining
    2. Quote:
      1. “This privilege, which had been bought formerly at a great price, became so cheap, that it was commonly said a man might be made a Roman citizen for a few pieces of broken glass.”
  38. Acts 28:16 “And when we came to Rome the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, with a soldier that kept him.”
    1. Josephus explains that after Caligula came to the throne, Paul was made to be prisoner, in his own home, with one other guard
  39. Acts 27:1 “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul, and certain other prisoners, unto one named Julius.”
    1. This passage hints at boating prisoners to Rome to be tried is a normal practice due to the fact that Paul is with other prisoners
    2. Josephus’ Affirmation:
      1. “Felix, for some slight offence, bound and sent to Rome several priests of his acquaintance, and very good and honest men, to answer for themselves to Caesar.”
  40. Acts 11:27 “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch; and there stood up one of them, named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine throughout all the world (or all the country); which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”
    1. Josephus affirmation:
      1. “In their time (i. e. about the fifth or sixth year of Claudius) a great famine happened in Judea.”
  41. Acts 18:1-2 “Because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.”
    1. Latin quote translation: (Severely paraphrased)
      1. “Jews causing many disturbances, and provoking Claudius, were expelled them from Rome.”
  42. Acts 5:37 “After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him.”
    1. Quote of Josephus
      1. “He (Judas of Galilee) persuaded not a few to enrol themselves when Cyrenius the censor was sent into Judea.”
  43. Acts 21:38 “Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
    1. Confirmation by Josephus:
      1. “But the Egyptian false prophet brought a yet heavier disaster upon the Jews; for this impostor, coming into the country, and gaining the reputation of a prophet, gathered together thirty thousand men, who were deceived by him. Having brought them round out of the wilderness, up to the mount of Olives, he intended from thence to make his attack upon Jerusalem; but Felix, coming suddenly upon him with the Roman soldiers, prevented the attack. — A great number, or (as it should rather be rendered) the greatest part, of those that were with him were either slain or taken prisoners.”
  44. Acts 17:22 “Then Paul stood in the midst of Marshill, and said, men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious; for, as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you all ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you.”
    1. Pausanias tells us that there was in fact in alter to the Unknown god of the Romans in saying:
      1. “And nigh unto it is an altar of unknown gods.”

Conclusion

If the gospels get the minor details correct, the off the cuff insignificant ones, is there a chance they could get the major ones right when recording history? When it comes to conspiracy or incompetency these are not factors for consideration. If the stories were produced through several edits, this is not the background you would expect. There are so many categories they could have got the details wrong on…but they get them right in all the classes available. What we have in the New Testament is a series of documents that cohere comfortably with history and get an A* for Geography!

Other Sources



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