Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Jonathan, Stephen and the First Marker in Pauline Chronology

I write to suggest a new way to view Pauline Chronology.

The easiest way to establish the historicity of Acts of the Apostles is to demonstrate that all of the data contained therein can be utilized to create an accurate chronology of the first generation of the followers of Jesus. In Acts 4:5-6, we read:

On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high priestly family. RSV

Luke does not mean to say that Annas was the reigning High Priest; rather Annas is named as the High Priest by Luke because 1) he is considered by Jewish society to still be the High Priest, as High Priest for life; 2) because he is the power behind the throne; 3) as a mark of respect due the former High Priest; and 4) as part of the irenical presentation that Luke is making to Theophilus the High Priest, son of Annas. This is not to say that Annas was the reigning High Priest when Jesus appeared before him or when Stephen was stoned. This is consistent with Luke’s usage in Lk. 3:2 and also consistent with Josephus’ usage in identifying a former High Priest as High Priest.

This John in Acts 4:5-6 should be correctly identified as Jonathan. In fact, the Western text[i] has the name correctly as Jonathan, which would be consistent with Josephus[ii] who identifies Jonathan as the high priest who follows Caiaphas. One commentator notes “This sort of inconsequential detail, the mentioning of names that do not really play a role in the narrative, is characteristic of Luke and suggest his use of sources.”[iii] On the contrary, “this sort of inconsequential detail” is a hint of the greater involvement of Jonathan in a subsequent event consistent with Luke’s step-progression method. Krodel claims “Luke never says everything at once, but expands and unfolds earlier themes as he moves step by step from one episode to another.”[iv]

Most of the commentators do not discuss the identity of the unnamed high priest who addressed Stephen: “Is this so?” [7:1]. The reason Luke does not explicitly name the high priest concerns the irenical purpose of his message.[v] On my view, the stoning of Stephen occurs during the high priesthood of Jonathan. This proposal causes problems for most if not all Pauline chronology schemes except possibly Robin Lane Fox. The high priesthood of Jonathan can be precisely dated using the information from Josephus. For Josephus, there are three great holidays: the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, also known as Pentecost and Sukkot, when all Jews were enjoined to travel to Jerusalem to perform the necessary sacrifices and rites at the Temple. Since Josephus mentions that Jonathan is appointed High Priest at the time of Passover[vi], his removal either occurred at the time of Shavuot, seven weeks later or Sukkot, five months later. The Hebrew feast of Shavuos, the Festival of Weeks, appears five times in the works of Josephus, who calls it by its Greek name Pentecost. Josephus identifies the removal event as follows: Vitellius “went up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice to God, an ancient festival of the Jews then approaching.” In agreement with Jeremias, Sukkot is the more likely ancient festival being identified by Josephus. Stephen used Nehemiah 9 as the model and source for his sermon perhaps because the events described therein immediately followed the Festival of Sukkot.

There is additional circumstantial evidence supporting the identification of Jonathan and the time period as the time period of the stoning of Stephen. Another son of Annas served for a brief time during the sixties as high priest and during his high priesthood the stoning of James occurred. The following similarities should be noted:

Jonathan + Ananus

son of Annas + son of Annas
5 months, 37 C.E. + 3 months, 62 C.E.
Vitellius in Antioch + Albinius out of town
stoning of Stephen + stoning of James
removal + removal

These two events occurred during a period of time when the Sanhedrin was unable to impose a death sentence without Roman approval. This should serve as a clue as to what happened in 37 C.E. In the case of James, the reigning high priest was removed as soon as Albinius arrived in Jerusalem. Festus died in office in 62 C.E. The Emperor Nero sends Albinius to replace Festus. At the same time, King Agrippa II who had been granted control over the high priesthood bestows it on Ananus. Josephus describes Ananus as rash and impertinent. Josephus further states that he “followed the school of the Sadducees, who, when it comes to judgments, are savage beyond all other Jews as I have explained.” Josephus then relates the stoning of James, brother of Jesus. Before Albinius can act, King Agrippa removes Ananus as High Priest. The account in Josephus can be interpreted to mean that the High Priest was responsible for maintaining order and perhaps seek approval of the Romans prior to the imposition of the death sentence.

With respect to Stephen, we know that Jonathan served as High Priest for about 5 months before he was removed and replaced by his brother. Josephus does not tell us the reason for this unusual change of high priest after a brief period of service in that Jonathan did not die in office and we are left to speculate as to the reason for his removal. We do know that according to Acts, Stephen was stoned and the High Priest was involved. This High Priest was Jonathan. Just prior to the removal of the High Priest, there was vacuum in power as the top Roman official assigned to Judea was out of town. Pilate was on his way to Rome, probably in chains and Vitellius was in Antioch.

In both situations, perhaps the reigning High Priest took advantage of the situation. Jonathan was removed as High Priest was because the stoning of Stephen took place on his watch and the Roman official took offense because he considered it to be a usurpation of his power. The stoning either was considered a lost of control of the crowds or failure to seek Roman approval of the death sentence. Josephus mentions another instance where the High Priest was removed because an event occurred for which he was held responsible: the removal of the eagle at the Temple in the last days of Herod the Great when Matthias was the High Priest.[vii]

In both instances, it would fair to infer that the stoning occurred because both Stephen and James had been publicly blaming the Temple establishment for the death of Jesus. As noted this identification is problematical, not for any logical reason but solely because it interferes with the pet theories about Pauline chronology. All Pauline chronologies, with the exception of Robin Lane Fox, start with Paul’s conversion in 33/34 C.E.

Josephus does not tell us the reason why Jonathan only served five months. The reason is easy to understand. For Josephus, Jonathan is one of the good guys. There is simply no event prior to the high priesthood of Jonathan that can serve as the setting for the stoning of Stephen.

Based on the above, the date of Paul's conversion cannot be earlier than 37 C.E.

© copyrighted 2005, 10-9-07; comment about Nehemiah 9 added.

[i] See Metzger, Textual Commentary, 317.
[ii] Ant.18.4.3
[iii] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, 1998), 191.
[iv] G.A. Krodel, Acts (Minneapolis, 1986), 281.
[v] For the same reason, Luke does not explicitly identify Caiaphas as the name of the High Priest before Jesus appeared.
[vi] So Vitellius . . . ordered Pilate to go to Rome to answer before the emperor to the accusations of the Jews; but before he could get to Rome, Tiberius was dead. [The Emperor, Tiberius Claudius Nero, (42 BCE-37 CE) died March 16, 37 CE. A Dictionary of The Roman Empire.]
But Vitellius came into Judea, and went up to Jerusalem; it was at the time of that festival, which is called the Passover.
[vii] See VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile, (Fortress Press, 2004), 412.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super work performed.

12:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am reading your blog wrong, but I think we agree that Pilate was removed in 36 CE about the time of the Passover, and at the same time Jonathan was made High Priest in Caiaphas’ place. That would be the spring of 36 CE. If Jonathan served only 5 months, he would have been removed in 36 CE and Theophilus’ tenure would have begun in the fall of that same year and not 37 CE as is believed. Is this analysis correct or have I missed something?

If Jonathan was removed from the high priesthood because of Stephen’s execution/murder in the fall of 36 CE, this would make it impossible for Paul to have been persecuting Christians for some time under Jonathan’s tenure (implied in Acts 8:1-4). After this Paul would need letters from the new High Priest (Theophilus) to continue doing so. The implication is that synagogues throughout the region knew of the High Priest’s policies and would have turned over Messianic Jews to Paul or anyone else coming in the name of the High Priest, but once a new High Priest is reigning, new letters would be demanded. Moreover, if Jonathan was removed for killing Stephen, why wasn’t Theophilus removed for giving authority to bring other believers to Jerusalem for punishment and execution (slaughter – G5408), as implied in Acts 9:1?

Personally, I don’t believe the Romans cared, if the High Priest, under due process in the Sanhedrin, executed its citizens who it thought were unruly. Pilate seemed to say as much when he told the High Priest to take Jesus and execute him under the Sanhedrin’s own authority. The problem then was that it was illegal for the Sanhedrin to try and execute anyone during annual Holy Days. The case with James, cir. 62 CE, is probably due to not only the civil unrest his execution/murder produced, but also the new procurator would have had to permit capital punishment to be carried out under due process. With no governor in Caesarea, the High Priest had no authority to call a Sanhedrin to order. In the matter having to do with Vitellius, he didn’t have to be present, because Marcellus was the procurator in Pilate’s place thus permitting the Sanhedrin to convene at Jerusalem at any time during Jonathan’s tenure.

Whatever the reason for Jonathan’s removal, I don’t believe it could have been for Stephen’s death. The time constraint in Acts 8 doesn’t seem to fit, and Theophilus seems to carry out the same matters, executing unnamed believers, yet he is not removed.

I, too, disagree with an early timeline for Paul’s conversion, but I have Jonathan giving him the letters for Damascus in 36 CE, and Jonathan was the High Priest for a year and a half, until Vitellius removed him during the Feast of Tabernacles [see Antiquities xviii, 5, 3 where immediately afterward Vitellius had his troops “winter” back in Syria due to Tiberius’ death]. Josephus doesn’t always tell us why the High Priest is removed from office. It is nice when he does, but it doesn’t always happen the way we would like.

4:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "These two events occurred during a period of time when the Sanhedrin was unable to impose a death sentence without Roman approval." Brent Kinman in 'Pilate’s Assize and the Timing of Jesus’ Trial' Tyn. Bull. 42(2), 1991 makes a case that the "period of time" was merely during Pilate's assize in Jerusalem when he assumed that responsibility, not a general prohibition against the Jewish imposition of the death penalty.

Rick Carpenter

1:07 PM


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