Evidence of 23 New Testament Political Figures outside of the Bible Evidence of 23 Biblical Politicians

By Peterson, Daniel | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), September 14, 2017 | Go to article overview

Evidence of 23 New Testament Political Figures outside of the Bible Evidence of 23 Biblical Politicians


Peterson, Daniel, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


By Daniel Peterson

For the Deseret News

For some time now, Purdue University's Lawrence Mykytiuk has been identifying non-biblical evidence for Old Testament characters. His most recent article, "New Testament Political Figures Confirmed," published in the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeological Review, turns to more recent figures.

"What historical evidence," he asks, "outside the New Testament and not produced by Christians refers to people mentioned in the New Testament?"

Four Roman emperors, abundantly attested in the archaeological record as well as in extra-biblical writings, represent fairly low-hanging fruit. No reasonable person seriously denies the existence of Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero (the "Caesar" of Acts 25:10 and 28:19).

Mykytiuk spends considerable time discussing the complex and distinctly unpleasant family of Herod the Great. Their genealogy can be quite confusing - and not merely because so many of them shared names - but it's important to understand in order to make sense of the New Testament narrative and also, in the present case, because they represent nearly half of the 23 New Testament characters for whom Mykytiuk provides non-biblical confirmation. (He suggests a 24th individual - Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene; see Luke 3:1 - but, preferring to err on the conservative side, concludes that the evidence for Lysanias, as for several other possibilities, is not quite beyond dispute.)

Mykytiuk finds decisive documentation, primarily in the writings of the historian Flavius Josephus and in ancient minted coins, for the existence not only of Herod the Great but of his sons Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip and Philip the Tetrarch; his grandson Herod Agrippa I; his granddaughter Herodias; her daughter, Salome (named in Josephus, though not in the New Testament, where her infamous dance leads to the execution of John the Baptist); his great-grandson Herod Agrippa II, who, with Festus, listened to the apostle Paul's defense as described in Acts 25:13-26:32; his great-granddaughter Bernice or Berenice, the sister and perhaps the lover of Herod Agrippa II, who also attended Paul's defense; and his granddaughter Drusilla, who eventually married the Roman governor Felix.

Perhaps more significantly than the previous characters, though, Mykytiuk finds convincing extra-biblical evidence for five Roman legates and governors. Among them are Marcus Antonius Felix and Porcius Festus, already mentioned above, who are described in Josephus and attested by coinage. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, or Cyrenius, appears in Luke 2:2 and the writings of Josephus, but also turns up in the ancient stone "Lapis Venetus" inscription, written in Latin, that (appropriately enough) describes his ordering of a census for the Syrian city of Apamea.

Lucius Junius Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia who sat as judge of the accusations against the apostle Paul (see Acts 18:12-17), is confirmed by an inscription found in Greece, at Delphi, in the late 19th century. And Pontius Pilate's name appears on a dedicatory stone from the theater at Caesarea Maritima, on Israel's northern coast, that was discovered in 1961.

As a last category of New Testament personages, Mykytiuk discusses three independent political figures, only one of whom was an actual ruler: Aretas IV, the Arabian king of Nabatea who is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:32, also appears not merely in Josephus but in coins and in inscriptions at the Nabatean capital of Petra.

Judas of Galilee, or Judas the Galilean, led a rebellion against a census of the Roman imperial legate Quirinius, as mentioned in Acts 5:37 and attested in Josephus. And, finally, Acts 21:38 alludes to an unnamed Egyptian who had started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists into the wilderness some time previously. This same individual - who, not being a ruler, left no coins behind - is similarly described, and remains similarly unnamed, in both Josephus's "The Jewish War" and his "Jewish Antiquities. …

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