New Testament Political Figures: The Evidence

A web-exclusive supplement to Lawrence Mykytiuk's BAR article identifying real New Testament political figures

herod-the-great-coin

The largest coin struck by King Herod the Great. Photo: Copyright 2010 by David Hendin, from Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th Edition.

Fifty-three people from the Hebrew Bible have been confirmed by archaeology. What about the New Testament? In “New Testament Political Figures Confirmed” in the September/October 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk examines the political figures in the New Testament who can be identified in the archaeological record and by extra-Biblical writings. Below, see Mykytiuk’s extensive evidence, covering King Herod and his royal family to lesser known figures.—Ed.
 


 

Evidence Guide:


 
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New Testament Political Figures Evidence Chart

Name Who was he or she? When did he rule? Where in the New Testament? Sample of evidence in historical writings Evidence in inscriptions
Roman Emperors
1 Augustus Roman Emperor 31 B.C.E.–14 C.E. Luke 2:1 Numerous Numerous
2 Tiberius Roman Emperor 14–37 C.E. Luke 3:1 Numerous Numerous
3 Claudius Roman Emperor 41–54 C.E. Acts 11:28; 18:2 Numerous Numerous
4 Nero Roman Emperor 54–68 C.E. Acts 25–26; 28:19 Numerous Numerous
Herodian Family
5 Herod I, the Great Rome’s King of the Jews over all of Palestine. 37–4 B.C.E. Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
6 Herod Archelaus Oldest son of Herod the Great. Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea. 4 B.C.E.–6 C.E. Matthew 2:22 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
7 Herod Antipas Son of Herod the Great; second husband of Herodias. Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Transjordan). He ordered the execution of John the Baptist. 4 B.C.E.–39 C.E. Luke 3:1; 13:31–32; 23:7–12; Mark 6:14; 6:16–28; 8:15 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
8 Herod Philip Son of Herod the Great but not a ruler; Herodias’s uncle and first husband; father of their daughter Salome. Matthew 14:3–4; Mark 6:17–18; Luke 3:19 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)
9 Herodias Granddaughter of Herod the Great; niece and wife of Herod Philip, mother of his daughter Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife. She brought about the order to execute John the Baptist. Mathew 14:2–11; Mark 6:17–28; Luke 3:19–20 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because she was not a ruler)
10 Salome Herodias’s daughter. Her dance led to the execution of John the Baptist. Grandniece and later wife of Philip the Tetrarch. Matthew 14:3–12; Mark 6:17–29 Josephus, Antiquities Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis
11 Philip the Tetrarch Son of Herod the Great. Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine. Eventually husband of his grandniece Salome. 4 B.C.E.–34 C.E. Luke 3:1 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
12 Herod Agrippa I Grandson of Herod the Great; brother of Herodias. King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine. Executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter. 37–44 C.E. Acts 12:1–6, 18–23 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
13 Herod Agrippa II Son of Herod Agrippa I. Initially Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories. Festus appointed him to hear Paul’s defense. 50–c. 93 C.E. Acts 25:13–26:32 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
14 Berenice/Bernice Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, rumored lovers. Attended Paul’s trial before Festus. Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Inscription of King Herod Agrippa II in Beirut
15 Drusilla Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; Jewish wife of Roman governor Felix. Acts 24:24 Josephus, Antiquities (No coins; not
a ruler)
Roman Legate and Governors
16 Publius Sulpicius Quirinius
( = Cyrenius)
Roman imperial legate brought in to govern Syria-Cilicia after Herod Archelaus’s rule led to rebellion. 6–9 C.E. and possibly earlier Luke 2:2 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut
17 Pontius Pilate Roman prefect of Judea who conducted Jesus’ trial and ordered his crucifixion. 26–36 C.E. Matthew 27:11–26; Mark 15:1–15; Luke 3:1; 23:1–24; John 18:28–19:22 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars; Tacitus, Annals; Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium Pilate Stone discovered at Caesarea Maritima; coins
18 Lucius Junius Gallio Roman proconsul of Achaia who convened and dismissed the trial of Paul in Corinth. c. 51–55 C.E. Acts 18:12–17 Seneca, Letters; Tacitus, Annals Stone inscription discovered in Delphi, Greece
19 Marcus Antonius Felix Roman procurator of Judea who held initial hearings in the trial of the apostle Paul. 52–c. 59 C.E. Acts 23; 24 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Coins
20 Porcius Festus Roman procurator of Judea who conducted a hearing in the trial of Paul, during which Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome. 59–62 C.E. Acts 24:27–25:27; 26:24–32 Josephus, Antiquities Coins
Independent Political Figures
21 Aretas IV Arabian king of Nabatea. Father of Herod Antipas’s first wife, before Herodias. 9 B.C.E.–40 C.E. 2 Corinthians 11:32 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars Inscriptions at Petra, etc.; coins
22 The unnamed Egyptian leader His Jerusalem-area insurrection was suppressed by Roman procurator Felix. Acts 21:38 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)
23 Judas of Galilee Led a rebellion against the census of Roman imperial legate Quirinius. Acts 5:37 Josephus, Antiquities and Wars (No coins because he was not a ruler)

 


 
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
 


 
Sample Evidences from Ancient Writings and Archaeology

This list does not pretend to be exhaustive in its coverage of the evidence. As the above title indicates, the evidences listed below are intended as samples of both kinds of evidence: ancient writings (manuscripts) and ancient inscriptions (normally on hard objects, such as potsherds). In a few instances, given the ravages of time and the somewhat haphazard nature of archaeological excavations, we have ancient writings but lack inscriptions that are known to be authentic.

Why consider historical evidence from outside the New Testament?
In order to evaluate the historical reliability of any ancient writing, in the last analysis, established historical methodology calls for all evidence to be considered, whether from inside or outside of that writing. Thus many readers who are already familiar with the New Testament are very interested in the external evidence. Likewise, historians of the world to which the New Testament writings refer are obliged to consider relevant evidence or potential evidence in these writings.

1–4. Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero.
The four Roman emperors mentioned in the New Testament are all abundantly verified in the writings of Roman historians, such as Tacitus’s Annals, which mentions all four, as well as in Josephus’s writings and in many inscriptions. For these, no further verification is needed. (Gaius, nicknamed “Caligula,” the Roman emperor after Tiberius, goes unmentioned in the New Testament.)

5. Herod I, the Great, Rome’s King of the Jews.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.14.4, 15.6.7
Josephus, Wars 1.33.8‒9

Coins:
At Masada, 393 coins of Herod the Great were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, p. 71, pp. 87–91 no. 110–502, Plate 62 no. 115–461. These coins from Masada have the inscription, “Of King Herod,” in Greek, sometimes abbreviated to only a few letters.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 21–22 no. 200–205, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 200, 202, 203.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 2.
At Tel Anafa, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 249; also in Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 237, type 17.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 138.

6. Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria and Idumea.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.2‒4, 17.13.1‒3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.33.9, 2.6.1‒3, 2.7.3

Coins:
In the inscriptions in Greek on all his coins, he calls himself only “Herod” or “Herod the Ethnarch” (sometimes abbreviated), never using his name Archelaus.

At Masada, 176 coins of Herod Archelaus were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 91‒93, and Plate 63 no. 503–677 (with gaps among numbered photographs).
In various parts of Palestine, including Galilee and Transjordan, other coins of Archelaus have been discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.

7. Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1, 18.2.3, 18.4.5, 18.5.1, 18.5.2, 18.7.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.1, 2.9.6

Coins:
Archaeology confirms his rule and title of Tetrarch (of Galilee and Perea) on several coins with the inscription “Of Herod the Tetrarch” in Greek, without giving his name Antipas. Also inscribed on some of his coins is the name of a city, “Tiberias,” which Antipas founded in Galilee and where he built a mint that produced these coins. Josephus’s writings and modern analysis of Jewish coins reveal that the only tetrarch named Herod who ever ruled Galilee was Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas apparently produced fewer coins than his father and brothers did, and according to the dates inscribed on his coins compared with theirs, he minted them less often. As a result, fewer have been recovered in excavations.

Near Tiberias, where they were minted, is the area that has yielded most of Antipas’s coins that have a known place of discovery.
At Meiron, 3 coins of Herod Antipas were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 22 no. 206–208, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 208 only (from year 37 of the Emperor Tiberius (33 C.E.). Meiron was north of the city of Dan in Galilee, which Antipas ruled. Coins no. 206 and 207, from the Emperor’s 34th year (29/30 C.E.), are recognizably his by their decorations and visible Greek letters.
At Jerusalem, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.

8. Herod Philip (not a ruler; compare Philip the Tetrarch, below).
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4, 1.29.2, 1.30.7

9. Herodias, wife of Herod Philip, mother of Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, War 2.9.6

10. Salome, Herodias’s daughter.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4

Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis, display her image (Hendin, Guide, pp. 276‒277, no. 1255).

11. Philip, Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine, sometimes called Herod Philip II, to distinguish him from his half-brother, Herod Philip, who was not a ruler (see above).
Josephus, Antiquities 17.1.3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4

Coins:
Philip did not have to avoid portraits on his coins because his subjects were generally not Jewish and had no religious prohibition against graven images. One of his coins from Tel Anafa features the head of Caesar Augustus on one side and the head of Philip on the other—literally a two-headed coin (Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 250, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250).

Most of his coins were discovered in his own tetrarchy in Palestine’s northern territories.
At Meiron, 2 coins of Philip the Tetrarch were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 23 no. 209 & 210, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 209 and 210.
At Tel Anafa, 7 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, pp. 253–254 no. 250–256, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250, 251, 252, 254.
On Cyprus, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 90.

12. Herod Agrippa I, King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 18.7.2, 19.5.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.5‒6

Coins:
At Masada, 114 of Herod Agrippa I’s coins were excavated, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1195–1198, Plate 66 no. 1195–1198.
At Meiron, 5 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 23–24 no. 211–214, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 211 and 214.
At Herodium, 5 identical coins of his were discovered, according to Herodium Coins, p. 75 no. 4.
In and near Jerusalem, as well as in all parts of Palestine, on Cyprus, at Dura-Europos in Syria, and even on the acropolis at Athens, his prutah coins (Jewish coins of low value, made of copper; see Hendin, Guide, p. 270, no. 1244) have been discovered. They are distinctive in their decorations and the spelling of his name.

13. Herod Agrippa II, Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.11.6

Coins:
Quite a few series of Agrippa II’s coins are identified as his because they have the name Agrippa, sometimes abbreviated, and can be dated to his reign, rather than his father’s (King Herod Agrippa I).
At Masada, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1308–1309, Plate 66 no. 1309.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 24–25 no. 215–220, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 216–220.

14. Berenice/Bernice, Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, distinguished by her fuller name Julia (in Latin, Iulia) Berenice from several other noted women of ancient times named Berenice.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 19.5.1, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.15.1

In the National Museum of Beirut is a partly broken, Roman-era dedicatory inscription in Latin that mentions “Queen Berenice.” The inscription states that she, and someone who is implied to be her fellow offspring, restored a building which “King Herod their ancestor” had made. Note the plural: “their ancestor.”

By using facts of the historical background, it is possible to identify both her and her relatives as the ones to whom the inscription refers, because of its location and because the names of her family members seem uniquely suited to fit this inscription. Berenice is said to be “of the great king A—” (name broken off), and the prominent family ties in the inscription suggest a daughter or descendant. The “great king A—” is very likely her father, King Herod Agrippa I, who was a descendant of King Herod the Great. The other offspring, her contemporary, is very likely her brother, King Herod Agrippa II.

A scholarly book in Italian describes this inscription: Laura Boffo, Iscrizioni Greche e Latine per lo Studio della Bibbia (Brescia, Italy: Paideia Editrice, 1994), pp. 338‒342, no. 41. For a photograph of this partly broken inscription in Latin and an English translation which fills in the broken portions using data from ancient historical writings, see www.livius.org/pictures/lebanon/beirut-berytus/beirut-insciption-of-king-agrippa-ii.

15. Drusilla, Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; wife of Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4

16. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (= Cyrenius), Roman Imperial legate to Syria-Cilicia.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.5, 18.1.1, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 7.8.1

The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut is a stone inscription in Latin that mentions a census that this Quirinius ordered in a Syrian city. It is included in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum vol. III, no. 6687. See Craig L. Blomberg, “Quirinius,” in ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 12–13.

17. Pontius Pilate, Roman prefect of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1‒2, 18.4.1‒2
Josephus, Wars 2.9.2‒4

Tacitus, Annals 15:44, in The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero (trans. J. C. Yardley; introduction and notes Anthony A. Barrett; Oxford World’s Classics; New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), p. 438. Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55‒c. 118 C.E.) was a historian, a Roman senator and a member of the priestly organization that supervised foreign religions in Rome; therefore he had exceptional access to information known by his colleagues and to archives accessible to the elite.

Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium 38, in The Works of Philo, Complete and Unabridged (trans. C. D. Yonge; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 784. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.‒c. 50 C.E.) was Pilate’s learned contemporary.

The “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima in 1961 in the theater or arena of the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, on Israel’s northern seacoast. This limestone block—2.7 feet high, 2 feet wide and 0.6 feet thick—was lying face down and had been used as a step. It had been trimmed down to be reused twice. Two of its four lines read, in English translation with square brackets marking missing portions that have been supplied by scholars: “[Po]ntius Pilate … [Pref]ect of Juda[ea],” as shown in Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, pp. 67–70, no. 43, Plate XXXVI. The inscription could potentially be dated to any time in Pilate’s career, but a date between 31 and 36 C.E. seems most likely (Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, p. 70.). The word for the building dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, “Tiberieum,” is in the first line of writing (on the line above it is only a mark resembling an apostrophe). On the second line of writing are the last four letters of the family name Pontius, which was common in central and northern Italy during that era. Still visible, clearly engraved in the stone, is the complete name Pilatus, which is translated into English as “Pilate.” Pilatus was “extremely rare” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Pilate, Pontius,” in ISBE, vol. 3, p. 867). Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus, and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain and redundantly assured.

Coins:
As with other Roman governors, the coins Pilate issued do not have his name on them, but rather display only the name of the Roman emperor, in this case Tiberius. Pilate’s coins also display his distinctive decorations.

At Masada, 123 of Pontius Pilate’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 96–97 no. 851–973a, Plate 64 no. 851–912, Plate 65 no. 913–930.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 6, p. 146.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 3.

18. Lucius Junius Gallio, Roman proconsul of Achaia.
Seneca, Letters 104
Tacitus, Annals xv.73
Dio Cassius lx.35
Pliny the Elder Naturalis Historia xxxi.33

Near the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, a stone inscription in a now-fragmented stone block discovered in the late 19th century refers to this particular Gallio. Carved into a stone now broken into fragments, with some words missing, it takes the form of a letter from the Roman emperor Claudius and includes a date. See C. K. Barrett, ed., The New Testament Background (rev. ed.; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), pp. 51‒52, no. 49.

19. Marcus Antonius Felix, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.11.7, 20.7.1‒2, 20.8.5
Josephus, Wars 1.12.1, 2.12.8, 2.13.7

Coins:
Felix followed the custom of Roman governors, issuing coins that do not display his name. But they are identifiable as his, because they display the name and regnal year of the emperor. Several also have the name of the empress, Julia Agrippina.

At Masada, 39 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 97‒98 no. 974‒1012, Plate 65 no. 974‒1012 with gaps in the numbered photographs.
At Meiron, 4 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 25–26 no. 221–224, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 221 and 223.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 7.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 5.

20. Porcius Festus, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.9, 20.9.1

Coins:
During the reign of the emperor Nero, Festus minted coins in the custom of Roman governors, which do not show his own name. Still, as with Felix, we can identify them as his by using the name and regnal year of the emperor.

At Masada, 184 of Festus’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 98–99 no. 1013–1194, Plate 65 no. 1013–1194 with gaps among the numbered photographs.

21. Aretas IV, king of the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea.
Josephus, Antiquities 13.13.3, 14.1.4
Josephus, Wars 1.6.2, 1.29.3

During Aretas IV’s reign, the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea reached the height of its power, wealth through trade, and political influence.

Stationary inscriptions that name King Aretas IV and members of his immediate family have been discovered south of the Dead Sea at Petra, at Avdat (Obodat) in southern Israel and even at Puteoli, Italy (Coins Nabataea, pp. 48, 61).

Coins:
The fact that the coins Aretas minted have been discovered in “enormous quantity … testifies primarily to a flourishing economy,” as observed in Coins Nabataea, p. 41. Aretas IV’s coins are treated on pp. 41–63, with photos on Plates 4–7 no. 46–122. These coins typically refer to him as “Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, who loves [lit., the lover of] his people” (Coins Nabataea, pp. 46–47, table: “Dated Coins and Inscriptions of Aretas IV.”

At Masada, 22 of Aretas IV’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 76, 79, Plate 73 no. 3603–3623.
At Meiron, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 26 no. 225 and 226, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 226.
At Curium on Cyprus, at Dura-Europas in what is now eastern Syria, and at Susa in Persia (present-day Iran), his coins have been discovered far and wide, according to Coins Nabataea, p. 41 note 2.

22. The unnamed Egyptian leader who escaped after his violent uprising was suppressed by the Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.6
Josephus, Wars 2.13.5

23. Judas of Galilee, the leader of the rebellion against Cyrenius (also spelled Quirinius, identified above) because of Cyrenius’s census and taxation, which scholars usually date to 6 C.E.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6, 20.5.2
Josephus, Wars 2.8.1
 


 
Want more on Biblical figures? Read “53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically,” “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” and “Herod the Great and the Herodian Family Tree” by Lawrence Mykytiuk.
 


 
“Almost Real” People (Not Certain, but Reasonable): The Archaeological Evidence

The one New Testament candidate in this category is Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene. His identity is not clear enough in a relevant inscription to be certain he is the one referred to in Luke 3:1, but it is reasonable enough for some scholars to consider a New Testament identification probable. According to a dedicatory inscription carved in stone at Abila, capital city of the ancient tetrarchy of Abilene, a certain “Lysanias the tetrarch, a freedman” ruled there (Raphaël Savignac, “Texte complet de l’inscription d’Abila relative à Lysanias,” Revue biblique, new series 9 [1912], pp. 533–540.). In line 1, the “august lords” are most likely the Emperor Tiberius and Tiberius’s mother, Livia, who was granted the title Augusta in 14 C.E. and died in 29 C.E. Luke 3:1 dates the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist using dates established with reference to several rulers, including Lysanias. By referring to these rulers and to other events, many scholars place the start of John’s ministry at c. 28 C.E., which falls within the potential time span of the tetrarchy of the Lysanias in this inscription. On the other hand, the dates used are somewhat imprecise, and the date of the inscription is based on likelihood, rather than complete clarity. If the “august lords” were Nero and his mother Agrippina, then this Lysanias’s rule might have lasted as late as the reign of Nero (54–68 C.E.). (Hemer, Acts, pp. 159–160, note 1.)

In Josephus, Antiquities 19.5.1 and Wars 2.11.5, the references to “Abila of Lysanias” and “the kingdom of Lysanias,” respectively, are too vague in their time reference to be a clear confirmation of Luke 3:1. Note: Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene, must not be confused with the earlier Lysanias, a Tetrarch in the same area, who is also mentioned in Josephus, Antiquities.
 


 
People Not Clearly Documented Outside the New Testament

Political figures who cannot be clearly identified in ancient writings and inscriptions outside the New Testament include:

a. Lucius Sergius Paulus or Paullus, Proconsul of Cyprus during the reign of Emperor Claudius, appears in Paphos, according to Acts 13:6–13. But only the family to which this person might potentially have belonged is documented (Hemer, Acts, pp. 109, 166–167, 227, all on Acts 13:7).

b. Theudas, who appears in Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.1, does not seem identifiable outside the New Testament in view of the chronological difficulties discussed in Hemer, Acts, pp. 162–163, on Acts 5:36.

c. The Erastus of Corinth who is described in most detail in Romans 16:23 cannot be clearly identified in an inscription in stone discovered at Corinth (Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20 might or might not refer to the same Erastus), in view of the difficulties and uncertainties raised by Steven J. Friesen, “The Wrong Erastus: Ideology, Archaeology, and Exegesis,” in Steven J. Friesen, Daniel N. Schowalter and James Christopher Walters, eds., Corinth in Context: Comparative Studies on Religion and Society (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 231–256. Difficulties in attempting such an identification were pointed out much earlier by Henry J. Cadbury, “Erastus of Corinth,” Journal of Biblical Literature 50 (1931), pp. 42–56.

Nor can the Erastus of Romans 16:23 be clearly identified in a second inscription discovered in 1960 that might conceivably refer to him, according to Andrew D. Clarke, “Another Corinthian Erastus Inscription,” Tyndale Bulletin 42.1 (1991), pp. 146–151.

d. Candace turns out to be an inherited, dynastic title customarily conferred on Ethiopian queens, rather than the given name of an individual (Hemer, Acts, p. 163, on Acts 8:27).
 


 
Abbreviations and References

Ancient Jewish Coinage 2 = Ya’akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage, vol. 2: Herod the Great through Bar Cochba (Dix Hills, NY: Amphora Books, 1982).

Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa = Y. Meshorer, “Chapter 4: Coins 1968–1986,” in Sharon C. Herbert, Tel Anafa I, i: Final Report on Ten Years of Excavation at a Hellenistic and Roman Settlement in Northern Israel (Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement Series 10, Part I, i and Kelsey Museum Fieldwork Series; Ann Arbor, MI: Kelsey Museum of the University of Michigan and Museum of Art and Archaeology of the University of Missouri—Columbia, 1994).

Coins of Ancient Meiron = Joyce Raynor and Yaakov Meshorer, The Coins of Ancient Meiron (Winona Lake, IN: ASOR/Eisenbrauns, 1988).

Coins Caesarea Maritima = D. T. Ariel, “The Coins,” in Lee I. Levine and Ehud Netzer, Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, 1975, 1976, 1979—Final Report (Qedem 21; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Coins Herodium = Ya’akov Meshorer, “The Coins,” in Ehud Netzer, Greater Herodium (Qedem 13; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1981).

Coins Nabataea = Ya’akov Meshorer, Nabataean Coins (Qedem 3; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1975).

Coins of Masada = Yaacov Meshorer, “The Coins of Masada,” in Masada I: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963‒1965: Final Reports. (ed. Joseph Aviram, Gideon Foerster, and Ehud Netzer; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1989).

Hemer, Acts = Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (ed. Conrad H. Gempf; Tübingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr, 1989; reprinted Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001, 2016).

Hendin, Guide = David Hendin and Herbert Kreindler, Guide to Biblical Coins (5th ed.; New York: Amphora Books, 2010).

Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima = Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima (The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, Excavation Reports 5; Boston, MA: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000).

ISBE = International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 4 vols., fully rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979–1988).

Josephus, Antiquities = Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 27‒542. An alternative translation of the title is: Jewish Antiquities.

Josephus, Wars = Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 543‒772. An alternative translation of the title is: The Jewish War.

Treasury of Jewish Coins = Ya’akov Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba (Nyack, NY: Amphora, 2001).
 


 

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  • Lawrence says

    Reply to Eric (comment 3):

    Thank you for your kind remark and your good questions. I suggest you borrow a copy of David Hendin’s book, Guide to Biblical
    Coins, 5th edition (New York: Amphora, 2010) either directly from a local library or by having a local library get a copy from another library (a process called interlibrary loan) and lend it to you. You will find answers to your questions on pp. 34-42.

    Dates on ancient coins told which year of the rule of a particular ruler, such as Tiberius Caesar 11, something like saying “Reagan 7”—not the overall system of years that we have today. Interestingly, today’s sytem of dates began during the 300s with the similar idea of Jesus being born a king, but with an unending reign, as Christians interpreted Like 1:30-33 according to a prophecy to King David in 2 Samuel 7:16 (compare 1 Chronicles 17:14).

    As for how coins were produced, the usual way to manufacture coins was to heat blank discs of metal called flans place a very hard die on them, and strike the die with a hammer. Sometimes, however, old coins were heated and re-struck using new dies to give them a new design on both sides. Hendin is a top-notch numismatist (expert on coins) who reveals much more about the process, so I urge you to borrow his book.

    Best wishes,

    Lawrence Mykytiuk
    Purdue University

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