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References to a possible expulsion of Jews from Rome by the Roman Emperor Claudius, who was in office AD 41-54, appear in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2), and in the writings of Roman historians Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. AD 122), Cassius Dio (c. AD 150 – c. 235) and fifth-century Christian author Paulus Orosius. Scholars generally agree that these references refer to the same incident.
A fairly precise date for Acts 18:1-18 is derived from the mention of the proconsul Gallio in 18:12 and the existence of an inscription found at Delphi and published in 1905, preserving a letter from Claudius concerning Gallio dated during the 26th acclamation of Claudius, sometime between January 51 and August 52.
Craig S. Keener states that most scholars believe that the Delphi inscription "pinpoints" Gallio's term in Corinth to within a year or two and that his term started in July 51, although some scholars prefer 52. Udo Schnelle states that dates for the reign of Gallio can be determined with a "fair degree of accuracy" given the Delphi inscription and his term started in the summer of 51. In support of the dates accepted by the majority of scholars for the Claudius expulsion of Jews from Rome, Ralph Novak states that the Delphi inscription clearly indicates that Gallio did not assume office any earlier than the spring of 50, adds that he may have served one or two years, and uses that to show how the date ranges are computed.
If Claudius's edict were issued in January of 49 and Paul came to Corinth and met Aquila and Priscilla, within six or so months of the edict, then an eighteen-month stay in Corinth would indicate a date after late spring of 50 and many days before January of 51 for Paul's trial. Novak states that on the other hand if Claudius's edict were issued in December of 49, using the same reasoning, the date of Paul's trial would be many days before the January of 52. Michael R. Cosby states that the dates 49-50 for the expulsion of Jews from Rome support the date from the trial of Paul in Corinth, and are consistent with the account of the activities of Priscilla and Aquila given in Acts 18:24-26.
Despite Pliny the Elder (N.H. 31.33) referring to only one sea cure by Gallio which was after he was consul—he was consul in the mid-50s—and despite neither Seneca nor Pliny suggesting that Gallio deserted his Achaea posting not to return, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and a number of other scholars state that it is likely that tenure of Gallio in Corinth lasted less than a full year, and due to health reasons (as in Seneca Moral Epistles 104.1) left Corinth earlier, perhaps even before shipping on the Mediterranean stopped in October 51 due to winter storms.
Murphy-O'Connor states that Seneca's statement about Gallio's departure from Corinth by sea and his need to recover from illness is confirmed by Pliny the Elder's statement in his Natural History (31.62). Murphy-O'Connor states that due to the statement of Seneca (Gallio's brother), "it is impossible" to place Paul's trial by Gallio's in the latter part of AD 51-52 and the trial must have happened between July when Gallio arrived in Corinth and September of 51. Murphy-O'Connor adds that this has "positive confirmation" in Galatians 2:1 which "places Paul in Jerusalem in AD 51". Slingerland states that an argument regarding the shortening of Gallio's stay in Achaea due to health issues is "speculative".
Some scholars indicate difficulties trying to use Acts for strict chronological indications. Collins and Harrington state that Luke's account may be a conflation of various traditions and not entirely accurate. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor indicates that Acts 18 is "much less precise than appears at first sight." The expulsion was from Rome, but Aquila and Priscilla came from Italy, so they may have stayed in Italy after the expulsion, how long "no-one can say". He also questions the exactitude of what is meant by "recently"/"lately".
Working from a date prior to August AD 52 for the Gallio inscription, Ralph Novak considers the possibility that Gallio served for two years and calculates a possible range from late spring of AD 50 to early summer of AD 54 depending on whether the inscription reflects a date late in Gallio's consulship or early. He then relies on the date of Orosius, i.e. AD 49, as the date for the expulsion in Acts 18:2. As seen below, many scholars reject the validity of the Orosius date. Slingerland accepts a wide date range for Paul's trial similar to that of Novak for Gallio's consulship and states that Paul could have arrived in Corinth up to 18 months earlier than the earliest possible start of Gallio's term of office or a short time before the end of Gallio's latest date.
There were at least two expulsions of Jews from Rome before the event that Suetonius mentions. In 139 BC the Jews were expelled after being accused of aggressive missionary efforts. Then in AD 19 Tiberius once again expelled Jews from the city for similar reasons.
Dating the expulsion from Suetonius provides some challenges because Suetonius writes in a topical rather than chronological fashion, necessitating the use of other texts to pinpoint the time. The dating of the "edict of Claudius" for the expulsion of Jews relies on three separate texts beyond Suetonius' own reference, which in chronological order are: the reference to the trial of Apostle Paul by Gallio in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2), Cassius Dio's reference in History 60.6.6-7, and Paulus Orosius's fifth century mention in History 7.6.15-16 of a non-extant Josephus reference. Most scholars agree that the expulsion of Jews mentioned in the Book of Acts is consistent with this report by Suetonius.
The passage may suggest that in the mid-first century the Romans still viewed Christianity as a Jewish sect. Historians debate whether or not the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in AD 96. From then on, practising Jews paid the tax, Christians did not.
Silvia Cappelletti describes Claudius's motivation as the need to control the population of Rome and prevent political meetings. (He "did not have an anti-Jewish policy.") The expulsion event Suetonius refers to is understood to be later than 41. Donna Hurley explains that Suetonius includes the expulsion "among problems with foreign populations, not among religions"
Dunn states that the disturbances Suetonius refers to were probably caused by the objections of Jewish community to preachings by early Christians; Dunn moreover perceives confusion in Suetonius which would weaken the historical value of the reference as a whole. Lane states that the cause of the disturbance was likely the preachings of Hellenistic Jews in Rome and their insistence that Jesus was the Messiah, resulting in tensions with the Jews in Rome. E.A. Judge states that Suetonius later introduces Christians "in a way that leaves no doubt that he is discussing them for the first time" (i.e. in Nero 16), bringing into doubt an interpretation that Suetonius is dealing with Christians in Claudius 25.
Donna Hurley notes that Acts provides a date of 49, but adds that neither Tacitus nor Dio "reports an expulsion in 49 or 50 as would be expected if there had been a large exodus of the Jewish community", concluding that '"all" is probably a hyperbole.'
Scholars are divided on the value of the Suetonius reference. Some such as Craig A. Evans, John Meier and Craig S. Keener see it as a likely reference to Jesus Others such as Stephen Benko and H. Dixon Slingerland see it as having a different historical value, not related to Christianity, for Benko an otherwise unknown agitator in Rome by the name of Chrestus and for Slingerland someone who influenced Claudius to expel Jews. Neil Elliott states, "following H. Dixon Slingerland's meticulous work I do not believe any of us can assume the expulsion of some Jews under Claudius was the result of Christian agitation".
The similarities are noteworthy, for both Suetonius and Cassius Dio deal with Jews, tumult, Claudius, the city and expulsion, and Cassius Dio does provide a chronological context that points to the year AD 41. However, Cassius Dio does not mention Chrestus or any cause for the emperor's actions, while he does say that Claudius did not drive the Jews out of the city. Slingerland states that "Suetonius Claudius 25.4 does not refer to the event narrated in Dio 60.6.6-7." Slingerland thus states that the fact that Cassius Dio notes that Claudius did not expel the Jews argues against the relevance of the AD 41 date to the Chrestus expulsion. Rainer Riesner states that ancient historians generally hold that Cassius Dio here may have referred to an earlier, more limited action against some Jews, which was later expanded by Claudius to the expulsion of a larger group of Jews.
Raymond E. Brown states that Dio specifically rejects a general expulsion and it would be more reasonable to assume that only the most vocal people on either side of the Christ issue were expelled. Feldman states that the expulsion mentioned by Dio refers to the same event in Suetonius, but had a limited nature. Feldman states that given that Claudius' Jewish friend Agrippa I had been helpful in his ascent to the throne as in Ant 19.236-44, and given Claudius' actions in Ant 20.10-14 it seems hard to believe that Claudius would have expelled all the Jews due to a single agitator, soon after assuming the throne. Feldman states that the most likely explanation is that Claudius at first either expelled only the Christians or restricted public assembly by the Jews.
In general, Cassius Dio does not use the word "Christian" in his Roman History, and appears not to distinguish (or unable to distinguish) Jews from Christians. Given this viewpoint, the large Christian population in Rome that Cassius Dio witnesses in his own time (up to AD229) would appear to him to conflict with any historical reports of massive Jewish expulsions, such as that of AD 41. Thus providing the reason for Cassius Dio convincing himself that Jewish expulsions did not happen.
The 5th-century Christian writer Paulus Orosius makes a possible reference to the event, citing two sources:
The first source used by Orosius, comes from a non-extant quote from Josephus. It is this which provides the date of AD 49. The second source is Suetonius Claudius 25.4. Slingerland contends that Orosius made up the Josephus passage for which no scholar has been able to discover a source. He also argues that the writer is guilty of manipulating source materials for polemic purposes.
Brown states more tactfully, "Orosius is not famous for his impeccable accuracy," then adds that "such a date" (i.e. 49) "receives some confirmation from Acts." Feldman states that "there is no such statement in the extant manuscripts of Josephus, and there is reason to believe that this version was created in the mind of Orosius himself." Philip Esler agrees with Slingerland that the AD 49 date "is a creation fully explicable within the tendentious historiography of this author."
However, E. M. Smallwood states that Orosius may have known of a passage from another author but confused the Josephus passage with it, or may have been quoting from memory. Silvia Cappelletti states that the change in spelling was probably not due to Orosius but to an intermediate source he consulted. Cappelletti also states that the lack of the Josephus text referred to does not undermine the authority of the date Orosius has suggested.
Bernard Green states that given that this section of Orosius' history is based on the chronological order of events, and that he refers to the expulsion only briefly and attaches no significance to it, Orosius seems to be "guiltlessly reporting" an event based on records he had seen. Rainer Riesner notes that it is not possible for Orosius to have derived the date of the expulsion that he wrote about from the Book of Acts.