Claudius' expulsion of Jews from Rome
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.
There were at least two expulsions of Jews from Rome before this event. 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.
Acts of the Apostles
- After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
- 5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
- 7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
- 9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
- 12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
- 14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. 17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.
- 18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.
Dating Acts by reference to Gallio or to Orosius
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.
An independent dating of Acts is sometimes based on a controversial AD 49 date for Claudius's edict, reported by Orosius (see section on Paulus Orosius below): 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. At the other extreme, 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.
In summary, the two dating approaches provide a time window of maximally AD 49 to AD 53 for the events in Acts, with January 49 being the earliest possible date for Claudius's expulsions of Jews from Rome, and AD 53 being the latest possible date for the trial of Paul during Gallio's term of office.
The health of Gallio
Gallio's brother Seneca reports in Moral Epistles 104.1 that Gallio began to develop a fever in Achaia and took ship at once, insisting that the disease was not of the body but of the place. Furthermore, Pliny the Elder states in his Natural History 31.33 that There are numerous other medicinal resources derived from the sea; the benefit of a sea-voyage, more particularly, in cases of phthisis, as already mentioned, and where patients are suffering from hæmoptosis, as lately experienced, in our own memory, by Annæus Gallio, at the close of his consulship.
Based on these references, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and a number of other scholars conclude that it is likely that the tenure of Gallio in Corinth lasted less than a full year, and due to health reasons Gallio left Corinth earlier, perhaps even before shipping on the Mediterranean stopped in October 51 due to winter storms. He argues that "it is impossible" to place Paul's trial by Gallio 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".
On the other hand, Pliny the Elder refers to only one sea cure by Gallio which was after he was consul presumably around AD 55, and neither Seneca nor Pliny explicitly suggest that Gallio deserted his Achaea posting not to return. 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.
- "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome."
The expulsion event Suetonius refers to is necessarily later than AD 41, and earlier than AD 54. Precisely 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. 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.'
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.") Donna Hurley explains that Suetonius includes the expulsion "among problems with foreign populations, not among religions"
Louis Feldman states that most scholars assume that the disturbances were due to the spread of Christianity in Rome. 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.
In contrast, 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.
Scholars are divided on the identity of "Chrestus" in the Suetonius reference. Some such as Craig A. Evans, John Meier and Craig S. Keener see it as a likely reference to Jesus. Menahem Stern said Suetonius was definitely referring to Jesus Christ, because he would have added "a certain" to Chrestus, if he had meant some unknown agitator.
Other scholars disagree: Stephen Benko sees "Chrestus" as an otherwise unknown agitator in Rome, whereas H. Dixon Slingerland sees him as 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 term Chrestus (from Gk χρηστός) was common at the time, particularly for slaves, meaning good or useful.
- "As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city [Rome], he [Claudius] did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings."
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. Moreover Cassius Dio says that Claudius did not drive the Jews out of the city, which prompts Slingerland to conclude that "Suetonius Claudius 25.4 does not refer to the event narrated in Dio 60.6.6-7." 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 AD 229) 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 had not happened.
The 5th-century Christian writer Paulus Orosius makes a possible reference to the event, citing two sources:
- "Josephus reports, 'In his ninth year the Jews were expelled by Claudius from the city.' But Suetonius, who speaks as follows, influences me more: 'Claudius expelled from Rome the Jews constantly rioting at the instigation of Christ [Christo, or rather xpo].' As far as whether he had commanded that the Jews rioting against Christ [Christum] be restrained and checked or also had wanted the Christians, as persons of a cognate religion, to be expelled, it is not at all to be discerned."
The first source used by Orosius comes from a non-extant quote from Josephus. It is this which provides the date of AD 49. His 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. 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. Brown tactfully states, "Orosius is not famous for his impeccable accuracy," then adds that "such a date" (i.e. 49) "receives some confirmation from Acts." 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.
- Rainer Riesner "Pauline Chronology" in Stephen Westerholm The Blackwell Companion to Paul (May 16, 2011) ISBN 1405188448 pp.13-14
- Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (2009) ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 p. 110, 400
- Van Voorst, Jesus, 2000. pp. 37
- The Letters of Paul: An Introduction by Charles B. Puskas (Aug 3, 1993) ISBN 0814656900 page 20 states: "The document of primary importance in determining a chronology of Paul is the Gallio Inscription found at Delphi"
- "The Gallio Inscription". Retrieved 2012-08-19.
- John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters, B&H Publishing Group, 1999, ISBN 9780805410976, p.78.
- Craig S. Keener in The Blackwell Companion to Paul edited by Stephen Westerholm 2011 ISBN 1405188448 page 51
- Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology by Udo Schnelle 2005 ISBN 0801027969 page 49. See also The Book of Acts by F. F. Bruce 1998 ISBN 0802825052 page 352 and The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers (Oct 7, 1999) ISBN 0830815899 page 164
- Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts by Ralph Martin Novak 2001 ISBN 1-56338-347-0 pages 18-22
- Apostle on the Edge: An Inductive Approach to Paul by Michael R. Cosby (Oct 20, 2009) ISBN 0664233082 pages 142-143. See also Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond E. Brown (30 Nov 1997) ISBN 0385247672 page 433 and Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul's Most Famous Letter by Richard N. Longenecker (Mar 25, 2011) ISBN 0802866190 pages 46-47
- "Pauline Chronology" by Rainer Riesner The Blackwell Companion to Paul edited by Stephen Westerholm (May 16, 2011) ISBN 1405188448 page 14. The Language of Belonging by Mary Katherine Birge (Dec 1, 2002) ISBN 9042911026 page 3. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor "Paul and Gallio" Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 112, No. 2, 1993. The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony C Thiselton 2000 ISBN 0853645590 pages 29-30. Apostle on the Edge: An Inductive Approach to Paul by Michael R. Cosby (Oct 20, 2009) ISBN 0664233082 page 76
- 'Paul: A Critical Life by J. Murphy-O'Connor (Sep 3, 1998) ISBN 0192853422 pages 21-22
- Klaus Haacker states, "Both Seneca and Plinius mention a sea voyage which Gallio chose as an immediate remedy against symptoms of phthisis when he was in Greece (not during his proconsulship as some modern writers wrongly assume)". Klaus Haacker, "Gallio", entry in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992)
- "L. Junius Annaeus Gallio, was suffect consul in the mid-50s AD, perhaps in 54." Robert C. Knapp, Roman Córdoba (University of California Press, 1992) ISBN 9780520096769 p.42. "L. Junius Gallio did hold consulship in 55 or 56". Anthony Barrett, Agrippina: Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Empire (Routledge, 1999) ISBN 9780415208673 p.280. "Gallio reached the consulship, probably in 55". Miriam T. Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty (Routledge, 1987) ISBN 0415214645 p.78. See also Wikipedia: List of Roman consuls and List of state leaders in 56.
- Bruce Winter, "Rehabilitating Gallio and his Judgement in Acts 18:14-15" Tyndale Bulletin 57.2 (2006), pp.298-299.
- Slingerland, 'Gallio', JBL 110, 3, p.446.
- Raymond F. Collins, Daniel J. Harrington, First Corinthians (Liturgical Press, 1993) ISBN 9780814658093 p.24.
- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth: Text and Archaeology (Liturgical Press, 2002) ISBN 9780814653036 p.159.
- Slingerland, 'Orosius', JQR 83, 1/2 (1992), p.134.
- Rainer Riesner, "Pauline Chronology" in The Blackwell Companion to Paul, Stephen Westerholm (ed.) (Blackwell, 2011) ISBN 1405188448 p.13.
- Slingerland, 'Suetonius "Claudius" 25.4 and the Account in Cassius Dio', JQR 79, 4, p.306
- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology (Aug 1, 2002) ISBN 0814653030 p.152
- Donna W. Hurley (ed.), Suetonius: Diuus Claudius (Cambridge University Press, 2001) ISBN 9780521596763 p.177.
- Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Paulist Press (1995), ISBN 0-8091-3610-4, pp.190-192; Dunn, James D.G., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, 70 to 135, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999), ISBN 0-8028-4498-7, Pp 33-34.; Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro & Gargola, Daniel J & Talbert, Richard John Alexander, The Romans: From Village to Empire, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 0-19-511875-8, p.426;
- Silvia Cappelletti, The Jewish Community of Rome (Leiden: Brill, 2006) ISBN 9789004151574 p.82.
- Donna W. Hurley (ed.), Suetonius: Diuus Claudius (Cambridge University Press, 2001) ISBN 9780521596763 p.176.
- Louis H. Feldman, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans (Oct 1, 1996) ISBN 0567085252 p. 332
- James D. G. Dunn Jesus Remembered (2003) ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 pp. 141-143
- William L. Lane in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome edited by Karl Paul Donfried and Peter Richardson (1998) ISBN 0802842658 pp. 204-206
- E. A. Judge (2008). James R. Harrison, ed. The First Christians in the Roman World: Augustan and New Testament Essays. Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 9783161493102. p.446.
- Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (2007) ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 166
- Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (2012) ISBN 0802868886 p. 66
- Menahem Stern, Jerusalem, 1980, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism vol. 2 , p 116
- D. Slingerland, "Chrestus: Christus?" in A. J. Avery-Peck, New Perspectives on Ancient Judaism 4 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1989) ISBN 9780819171795 p.143. The same view has been espoused by Neil Elliot, ('impulsore Chresto probably refers to "Chrestus" having prompted Claudius' expulsion, not the Jews' disturbances': Neil Elliot, "The Letter to the Romans" in R. S. Sugirtharajah and Fernando F. Segovia (eds.) A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings (T.& T.Clark, 2009) ISBN 9780567637079 p.198) and Ian Rock ("there is sufficient reason to believe that either Chrestus may have been the impulsor to Claudius given the evidence that powerful freedmen influenced Claudius' decisions": Ian E. Rock, "Another Reason for Romans - A Pastoral Response to Augustan Imperial Theology: Paul's Use of the Song of Moses in Romans 9-11 and 14-15" in Kathy Ehrensperger, J. Brian Tucker (eds.) Reading Paul In Context: Explorations In Identity Formation; Essays In Honour Of William S. Campbell (T.& T.Clark, 2010) ISBN 9780567024671, p.75).
- Van Voorst, Jesus, 2000. pp 31-32
- Brian Incigneri, The Gospel to the Romans (Leiden: Brill, 2003) ISBN 9004131086 p.211.
- Neil Elliot, "The Letter to the Romans" in R. S. Sugirtharajah and Fernando F. Segovia (eds.) A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings (T.& T.Clark, 2009) ISBN 9780567637079 p.5.
- R. T. France. The Evidence for Jesus. (2006) Regent College Publishing ISBN 1-57383-370-3. p. 42
- Slingerland, 'Cassius Dio', JQR 79, 4, p.316
- Slingerland, 'Cassius Dio', JQR 79, 4, (1988) p.307
- Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier Antioch and Rome (May 1983) ISBN 0809125323 page 102
- Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World by Louis H. Feldman (Oct 14, 1996) ISBN 069102927X page 304
- Anonymous Christian layman, 19 Nov 2013
- Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII 7.6.15-16, cited in Slingerland, 'Orosius', JQR 83, 1/2 (1992), p. 137.
- Slingerland, 'Orosius', JQR 83, 1/2 (1992), p. 137.
- Slingerland, 'Orosius', JQR 83, 1/2 (1992), p. 142.
- Slingerland, 'Orosius', JQR 83, 1/2 (1992), pp. 139-141.
- Louis H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions From Alexander To Justinian (Princeton University Press, 1996) ISBN 9780691029276 p.304.
- Philip Francis Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter (Augsburg Fortress, 2004) ISBN 9780800634353 p.99.
- E. Mary Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian (Oct 1, 2001) ISBN 039104155X pp. 210-211
- The Jewish Community in Rome: From the Second Century B. C. to the Third Century C. E. by Silvia Cappelletti (Aug 1, 2006) ISBN 9004151575 pp. 73-74
- Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries by Bernard Green (Apr 15, 2010) ISBN 0567032507 page 25