Continuing in this series, I now want to take a short break from referencing Eusebius' interpretation of Old Testament prophecies, and provide some historical information about those events which he argues were fulfilled within the generation of the Apostles.
Although Eusebius was a comprehensive biblical exegete, he is actually more famous for being an excruciatingly detailed historian. As I noted in a couple posts, Eusebius is considered to be "the Father of Church History." For those unfamiliar with his historical works, over the next few posts I will be offering a few selections from those which will help clarify what first century events he thought clearly illustrated the fulfillment of Scriptural promises about the end of the Old Covenant administration and final judgment upon the Jewish nation in 70 AD.
A good place to begin is in his Ecclesiastical History, when describing what happened to the Jews around the time of Herod Agrippa's banishment, and afterward. He writes:
Tiberius died after having reigned about twenty-two years, and Caius, receiving the empire next, immediately conferred the Jewish government on Agrippa, appointing him king over the tetrarchy both of Philip and Lysanias. To these, not long after, he adds also the tetrarchy of Herod, after having inflicted the punishment of perpetual exile upon Herod, together with his wife Herodias, for their numerous crimes. This was the Herod who was concerned in the passion of our Saviour. Josephus bears testimony to these facts. During the reign of this emperor, Philo became noted, a man most distinguished for his learning, not only among very many of our own, but of those that came from abroad. As to his origin, he was a descendant of the Hebrews, inferior to none at Alexandria in point of dignity of family and birth. As to the divine Scriptures, and the learning of his country, how greatly and extensively he laboured, his work speaks for itself. And how well skilled in philosophy and the liberal studies of foreign countries, there is no necessity to say, since, as he was a zealous follower of the sect of Plato and Pythagoras, he is said to have surpassed all of his contemporaries.
This author has given us an account of the sufferings of the Jews in the reign of Caius, in five books. He there also relates the madness of Caius, who called himself a god, and was guilty of innumerable oppressions in the exercise of his power. He mentions the miseries of the Jews under him, and the embassy which he himself performed when sent to the city of Rome, in behalf of his countrymen at Alexandria; how that when he pleaded before Caius, for the laws and institutions of his ancestors, he received nothing but laughter and derision in return, and had well nigh incurred the risk of his life. Josephus also mentions these things in the eighteenth book of his Antiquities, in these words:“A sedition having also arisen between the Jews dwelling at Alexandria and the Greeks, three chosen deputies were sent from each of the factions, and these appeared before Caius. One of the Alexandrian deputies was Apion, who uttered many slanders against the Jews; among other things, saying, that they treated the honours of Cæsar with contempt, that whilst all others, as many as were subject to the Roman empire, erected altars and temples to Caius, and in other respects regarded him as i god, they alone considered it disgraceful to raise statues to his honour, and to swear by his name. Apion having thus uttered many and severe charges, by which he hoped that Caius would be roused, as was very probable, Philo, the chief of the Jewish embassy, a man illustrious in every respect, being the brother of Alexander, the Alabarch,1 and not unskilled in philosophy, was well prepared to enter upon a defence against these charges. But he was precluded from this by Caius, who ordered him straightway to be gone, and, as he was very much incensed, it was very evident that he was meditating some great evil against them. Philo departed, covered with insult, and told the Jews that were with him, they had good reason to console themselves, that although Caius was enraged at them, he was already in fact challenging God against himself.”
Thus far Josephus. And Philo himself, in the embassy which he describes, details the particulars of what was then done to him, with great accuracy. Passing by the greatest part of these, I shall only state those by which it will be made manifest to the reader, that these things happened to the Jews forthwith, and at no distant period, on account of that which they dared to perpetrate against Christ. First, then, he relates, that in the reign of Tiberius, at Rome, Sejanus, who was then in great favour with Tiberius, had made every effort utterly to destroy the whole nation of the Jews, and that in Judea Pontius Pilate, under whom the crimes were committed against our Saviour, having attempted something contrary to what was lawful among the Jews respecting the temple at Jerusalem, which was then yet standing, excited them to the greatest tumults.
After the death of Tiberius, Caius having received the government, besides many other innumerable acts of tyranny against many, did not a little afflict the whole nation of the Jews particularly. We may soon learn this, from the declaration of the same author, in which he writes as follows:
“So great was the caprice of Caius in his conduct towards all, but especially towards the nation of the Jews. As he was excessively hostile to these, he appropriated their places of worship to himself in all the cities, beginning with those at Alexandria, filling them with his images and statues. For having permitted it when others erected them of their own accord, he now began to erect them by absolute command. But the temple in the holy city, which had been left untouched as yet, and been endowed with privileges as an inviolable asylum, he changed and transformed into a temple of his own, that it should be publicly called the temple of Caius the younger, the visible Jupiter”.
Many other and almost indescribable calamities, the same author relates, as happening to the Jews of Alexandria, during the reign of the aforesaid emperor, in his second book, to which he gave the title, ‘On the Virtues.’ Josephus also agrees with him, who likewise intimates that the calamities of the whole nation took their rise from the times of Pilate, and the crimes against our Saviour. Let us hear, then, what he also says in the second book of the Jewish War.
“Pilate being sent by Tiberius as procurator of Judea, at night carried the covered images of Cæsar into the temple; these are called ensigns. The following day, this excited the greatest disturbance among the Jews. For they that were near, were confounded at the sight, as a contemptuous prostitution of their legal institutions; for they do not allow any image to be set up in their city.”
Comparing these accounts with the writings of the evangelists, you will perceive, that it was not long before that exclamation came upon them, which they uttered under the same Pilate, and by which they cried again and again that they had no other king but Cæsar. After this, the same historian records, that forthwith another calamity overtook them, in these words:
“But after these things, he (i.e. Pilate) excited another tumult, by expending the public treasure which is called Corban, in the construction of an aqueduct. This extended nearly three hundred stadia. The multitude were sorely grieved at it; and when Pilate came to Jerusalem, they surrounded the tribunal, and began to cry out against him. But having anticipated a tumult, he had placed his armed soldiers amongst the multitude, disguised under the same dress with the rest of the people, and having commanded them not to use their swords, but to strike the turbulent with clubs, he gave them a signal from the tribunal. The Jews being thus beaten, many of them perished in consequence of the blows, many also in their flight were trodden to death by their own countrymen. The multitude thus overawed by the misfortune of the slain, held their peace.”
The same writer mentions innumerable other commotions that were raised in Jerusalem beside these;2 showing that from that time tumults, and wars, and plots of mischief, one after another, never ceased in the city and all Judea, until, last of all, the siege of Vespasian overwhelmed them. Thus, then, the divine justice overtook the Jews in this way, for their crimes against Christ.
It is proper, also, to observe, how it is asserted that this same Pilate, who was governor at our Saviour’s crucifixion, in the reign of Caius, whose times we are recording, fell into such calamities that he was forced to become his own murderer, and the avenger of his own wickedness. Divine justice, it seems, did not long protract his punishment. This is stated by those Greek historians who have recorded the Olympiads in order, together with the transactions of the times.
Caius, however, had not reigned four years, when he was succeeded by Claudius, in the sovereignty of the empire. In his reign there was a famine that prevailed over the whole world;3 an event, indeed, which has been handed down by historians far removed from our sentiments; and by which the prediction of the prophet Agabus,4 recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, respecting the impending famine over the whole world, received its fulfilment. Luke, however, in the Acts, after stating the famine in the time of Claudius, and after recording how, by means of Paul and Barnabas, the brethren at Antioch had sent to those of Judea, according to the ability of each one, also adds the following.
“About this time (it is manifest he means the reign of Claudius), Herod the king prepared to afflict some of the church. But he slew James, the brother of John, with the sword.”
Of this James, Clement adds a narrative worthy of note, in the seventh book of his Institutions, evidently recording it according to the tradition which he had received from his ancestors. He says, that the man who led him to the judgment seat, seeing him bearing his testimony to the faith, and moved by the fact, confessed himself a Christian. Both, therefore, says he, were led away to die. On their way, he entreated James to forgive him, and James, considering a little, replied, “Peace be to thee,” and kissed him; and then both were beheaded at the same time. Then also, as the Scriptures say, Herod, at the death of James, seeing that the deed gave pleasure to the Jews, also attacked Peter, and having committed him to prison, had well nigh executed the same murderous intention against him, had he not been wonderfully delivered from his prison by an angel appearing to him at night, and thus liberated to proclaim the Gospel. Such was the providence of God in behalf of Peter.
The consequences, however, of the king’s attempts against the apostles, were not long deferred, but the avenging minister of divine justice soon overtook him after his plots against the apostles. As it is also recorded in the book of Acts, he proceeded to Cæsarea, and there on a noted festival, being clad in a splendid and royal dress, he harangued the people from an elevation before the tribunal. The whole people applauding him for his harangue, as if it were the voice of a god, and not of man, the Scriptures relate, “that the angel of the Lord immediately smote him, and being consumed by worms, he gave up the ghost.” It is wonderful to observe, likewise, in this singular event, the coincidence of the history given by Josephus, with that of the sacred Scriptures. In this he plainly adds his testimony to the truth, in the nineteenth book of his Antiquities, where he relates the miracles in the following words:
“But he (i. e. Herod) had completed the third year of his reign over all Judea, and he came to the city of Cæsarea, which was formerly called the tower of Strato. There he exhibited public shows in honour of Cæsar, knowing it to be a kind of festival for his safety. At this festival was collected a great number of those who were the first in power and dignity throughout the province. On the second day of the shows, being clad in a robe all wrought with silver, of a wonderful texture, he proceeded to the theatre at break of day. There, the silver irradiated with the reflection of the earliest sunbeams, wonderfully glittered, inspiring admiration and awe in the beholders. Presently the flatterers raised their shouts in different ways; such, however, as were not for his good, calling him a god, and imploring his clemency in such language as this: ‘We have feared thee thus far as man, but henceforth we confess thee to be superior to the nature of mortals.’ The king did not either chide them or disclaim the impious flattery. After a little while, raising himself, he saw an angel sitting above his head. This he immediately perceived was the sign of evil, as it had once been the sign of good. And he felt a pain through his heart, and a sudden pang seize his bowels, which began to torment him with great violence. Turning, then, to his friends, he said, ‘I, your god, am now commanded to depart this life, and fate will soon disprove your false assertions respecting me. He whom you have called an immortal, is now compelled to die, but we must receive our destiny as it is determined by God. Neither have we passed our life ingloriously, but in that splendour which is so much extolled.’ Saying this, he laboured much with the increase of pain. He was then carried with great haste into the palace, while the report spread throughout the people, that the king at all events would soon die. But the multitude with their wives and children, after their country’s custom, sitting in sackcloth, implored God in behalf of the king; all places were filled with lamentation and weeping. But the king, as he lay reclining in an elevated chamber, and looking down upon them falling prostrate to the ground, could not refrain from tears himself. At length, overpowered by the pain of his bowels, for four days in succession, he ended his life, in the fifty-fourth year of his age and seventh of his reign. He reigned, therefore, for four years under Cains Cæsar, had the tetrarchy of Philip three years, and received that of Herod in the fourth year, reigning subsequently three years under Claudius Cæsar.”
Thus far Josephus: in which statement, as in others, so in this, I cannot but admire his agreement with the divine Scriptures. But if he should appear to any to differ, in regard to the epithet of the king; yet the time and the fact show that it was the same individual, whether it happened by an error in writing that the name was changed, or in consequence of a double name applied to him; such as was the case with many.
As Luke in the Acts, also introduces Gamaliel in the consultation respecting the apostles, saying, that at this time “arose Theudas, who gave out that he was some one, but who was destroyed, and all that obeyed him were dispersed,” let us now, also, add the written testimony of Josephus respecting the same circumstance. He relates, in the book already quoted, the following particulars.
“While Fadus was procurator of Judea, a certain impostor called Theudas persuaded the multitude to take their possessions with them, and follow him to the river Jordan. For he said he was a prophet, and that the Jordan should be divided at his command, and afford them an easy passage through it. And with such promises he deceived many. But Fadus did not suffer them to enjoy their folly, but sent a troop of horsemen against them, who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many and took many alive; but having taken Theudas himself captive, they cut off his head and carried it to Jerusalem.”
Besides this, he also mentions the famine that took place under Claudius, as follows.
"About this time it happened that the great famine took place in Judea, in which also queen Helen having purchased grain from Egypt, with large sums, distributed to the needy."
You will also find this statement in accordance with that in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is said, that according to the ability of the disciples at Antioch, they determined, each one, to send to the assistance of those in Judea. Which also they did, sending to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Paul. Of this same Helen, mentioned by the historian, splendid monuments are still to be seen in the suburbs of the city (i.e. Jerusalem) now called Ælia. But she is said to have been queen of the Adiabeni.
1 Alabarch. The Alabarch was the chief magistrate among the Jews at Alexandria.
2 In Matthew 24:6, Jesus prophecies: "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet."
3 Matthew 24:7, Jesus prophecies: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains."
4 Acts 11:27-30
Valesius. (1847). Life of Eusebius Pamphilus. In Parker S.E. (Trans.), An Ecclesiastical History to the 20th Year of the Reign of Constantine (pp. 73–81). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.