That the Herodian era of early AD history needs to be radically revised against the context of the (supposedly entirely BC) Maccabean era was the basic thrust of my article:
A New Timetable for the Nativity of Jesus Christ
Luke’s early historical account of Jesus Christ in his Gospel, his ‘Infancy Narrative’ phase, is now to be situated, as I have newly proposed, in the Maccabean era of Judas and his brothers.
With this background in mind, for whom was Luke the Evangelist writing?
Who was Luke 1:3’s “Most Excellent Theophilus?
December 10, 2006
Read Luke's prologue as a declaration of certitude and confidence pitched to a skeptic. Imagine how you might articulate the story of Jesus to those informed yet unbelieving. Consider why, or if, it is significant that Theophilus is identified, or identifiable. Would such an identification change your present understanding of Luke’s Gospel?
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A New Theophilus
Theophilus" for whom Luke composed his twofold history.
An interviewer asked Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize winner, "How much are you conscious of the reader when you write?"
"I have in mind", he said, "another human being who will understand me ...."
When Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts he also had one person in mind. He wrote for Theophilus. The question of who Theophilus was has intrigued students of the Bible for nineteen hundred years. Moreover, we now know that to understand any piece of literature we must know the readership for whom it is intended. A paragraph taken from a technical journal can be easily differentiated from that of a literary magazine. So too, the kind of person for whom he wrote would influence Luke's choice of words, his selection of subject matter and even the turn of his sentences.
Who might this "Excellency" have been? A very important authority in the Roman government had shown an interest in the Gospel. Persecutions were becoming more frequent. Regular citizens called Christians "atheists" because they did not reverence the images. They were "divisive" and "anti-social." …. But if this man Theophilus (his real name probably protected by this pseudonym) could be convinced of the rightness of the Christian faith, his influence would help immensely in the furtherance of the message of salvation, and in the alleviation of suffering due to persecution. For his sake Luke says he has researched the life of Christ. He has personally interviewed eye-witnesses and read all available manuscripts. All this so that His Honour Theophilus may be convinced of the authenticity of what Jesus taught and did.
Since earliest times until the present seven names have been suggested in trying to identify Theophilus. Without using a definite name others have thought that this person must have been a Roman official, a resident of Rome, someone from Alexandria, or someone from Syrian Antioch. The seven names are:
l. Theophilus, brother-in-law to Caiaphas, was high priest A.D. 37-41. ….
4. Again, Luke could have given Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, the name Theophilus as a pseudonym (Acts 13: 7-12).
5. Lucius Junius Annaeus Gallio. This brother of Seneca was perhaps the most eminent Roman that Paul met (Acts 18: 12-17).
6. B. H. Streeter nominates Titus Flavius Clemens, heir-presumptive of the Emperor Domitian, even though he does not appear in the pages of our New
Testament. He is roughly a contemporary of Luke and the fact that he may have been executed because of his interest in Christianity (his wife, Domitilla, was a baptized Christian) makes Streeter's suggestion attractive. ….
7. Philo Judaeus. J. A. Bengel, following Bar Bahlul's arguments that Theophilus was an Alexandrian, believes that Philo was Theophilus. His Hebrew name was Yedidyāh, the equivalent of Theophilus. ….
8. To this list, I believe the name of King Agrippa II should be added. Why he has not been suggested before is a mystery. Possibly it may be because so many have sterotyped him as a rascal or, at best, an inconsequential princeling.
He deserves a much better evaluation. Of all the Herods he was the best. …. But because of the "negative press" that Agrippa Il has received, it is necessary to remind the reader in some detail of the positive and excellent qualities this king had.
Agrippa Il qualifies as an official in good standing with Rome. The Herods were always loyal to Rome and Agrippa I's son, called Marcus Julius Agrippa, grew up a member of Caesar's family. Neither Moses in the Pharaoh's household nor Daniel in Babylon had better opportunities for a first-class education.
Nor was Agrippa ashamed of his Jewish background. At the early age of seventeen, soon after his father's death and still sharing the intimacy of Claudius's family, he was able to influence the Emperor in favour of the people of Jerusalem in a delicate matter which had to do with the priestly vestments. The Jews were pitted against the Governor of Syria and the Procurator of Judea, but Claudius ruled in favor of Agrippa and the Jews. ….
Agrippa was made King of Chalcis at the age of twenty-three. …. Three years later he was given the territory of his uncle Philip: Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis … Abilene (the tetrarchy of Lysanias) and the tetrarchy of Varus. Soon thereafter Nero became Emperor and added four toparchies (townships) to Agrippa II's domains. One of these, Julias, in Perea, consisted of the city and fourteen surrounding villages … undoubtedly some of those visited by Jesus and his disciples.
In addition, ever since his twenty-first year, this young prince was put in charge of the high-priestly vestments in Jerusalem. He appointed the high priest and he was treasurer of the temple. …. No position among the Jews of that time ranked higher.
Perhaps nothing shows more how successful a ruler Agrippa Il was than to compare his rule with that of his neighbours to the south who sought to administer Judea. Agrippa governed a scattered territory made up of mixed races but he maintained unbroken control for fifty-one years, while Judea was racked by strife. Procurators came and went until the Jewish state ceased to exist in A.D. 70. By contrast Agrippa II's holdings grew after that date.
A good measure of Agrippa's imperial stature is to study his speech when he (temporarily at least) dissuaded the Jews from rising up against the Romans. He was returning from a visit to Alexandria when a delegation of chief priests, the Sanhedrin, and high ranking citizens went as far as Jamnia to welcome him and to inform him that great numbers in Jerusalem were at the point of open rebellion, because of the atrocities committed by Procurator Gessius Florus. …. Agrippa hurried to Jerusalem, called together the populace and delivered a speech which for rhetoric and logic is one of the best antiquity has preserved for us …. Agrippa II's breadth of knowledge of contemporary history and of the organization of the far-flung Roman Empire shows that he was no petty courtesan but a true ruler. That he was able to conjure up such a speech on so short notice shows why this man was respected in Alexandria, in Antioch and in Rome as well as in Jerusalem.
Thus Agrippa II qualified in a historical sense as the "Most Excellent" in Luke's Prologue. We now turn to the internal evidence in Luke's writings which also supports this identification. ….
II. INTERNAL SUPPORT
All government authorities were aware that he was an adviser of emperors-of Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian in turn. For Paul at this moment, and for Luke years later, to persuade Agrippa of the truth of the gospel and of the benevolent nature of the Christian movement, was of supreme tactical importance.
A satisfactory answer to this problem could be that Agrippa II is Theophilus. All of Luke's writing seems to be leading up to this final, most dramatic and most eloquent moment in the lives of both men. King Agrippa enters the Judgement Hall in Caesarea together with his sister Bernice and Procurator Festus in the midst of a great display of pageantry, followed by military commanders and lastly by the notables among the civic population. …. Agrippa, in keeping with his eminence, takes charge of the proceedings and Paul speaks as if he alone were in the presence of the King.
The idea is, "thou persuadest me a little (or in some degree) to become a Christian," i.e. I begin to feel the force of your persuasive arguments, and if I hear you any longer, I do not know what the effect may be. This is neither sportively nor bitterly ironical, but complimentary and courtly, no doubt expressing a sincere admiration of Paul's eloquence and logic. . . but not a genuine conviction of the truth of Christianity, as may be gathered from the later history of this man ….