Chapter XXI.—The Egyptian, who is mentioned also in the Acts of the Apostles.
1. After other matters he proceeds as follows: 464 “But the Jews were afflicted with a greater plague than these by the Egyptian false prophet. 465 For there appeared in the land an impostor who aroused faith in himself as a prophet, and collected about thirty thousand of those whom he had deceived, and led them from the desert to the so-called Mount of Olives whence he was prepared to enter Jerusalem by force and to overpower the Roman garrison and seize the government of the people, using those who made the attack with him as body guards.
2. But Felix anticipated his attack, and went out to meet him with the Roman legionaries, and all the people joined in the defense, so that when the battle was fought the Egyptian fled with a few followers, but the most of them were destroyed or taken captive.”
3. Josephus relates these events in the second book of his History. 466 But it is worth while comparing the account of the Egyptian given here with that contained in the Acts of the Apostles. In the time of Felix it was said to Paul by the centurion in Jerusalem, when the multitude of the Jews raised a disturbance against the apostle, “Art not thou he who before these days made an uproar, and led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?” 467 These are the events which took place in the time of Felix. 468
Jos. B. J. II. 13. 5.123:465
An Egyptian Jew; one of the numerous magicians and false prophets that arose during this century. He prophesied that Jerusalem, which had made itself a heathen city, would be destroyed by God, who would throw down the walls as he had the walls of Jericho, and then he and his followers, as the true Israel and the army of God, would gain the victory over the oppressors and rule the world. For this purpose he collected his followers upon the Mount of Olives, from whence they were to witness the falling of the walls and begin their attack.123:466
Josephus gives two different accounts of this event. In the B. J. he says that this Egyptian led thirty thousand men out of the desert to the Mount of Olives, but that Felix attacked them, and the Egyptian “escaped with a few,” while most of his followers were either destroyed or captured. In Ant. XX. 8. 6, which was written later, he states that the Egyptian led a multitude “out from Jerusalem” to the Mount of Olives, and that when they were attacked by Felix, four hundred were slain and two hundred taken captive. There seems to be here a glaring contradiction, but we are able to reconcile the two accounts by supposing the Egyptian to have brought a large following of robbers from the desert, which was augmented by a great rabble from Jerusalem, until the number reached thirty thousand, and that when attacked the rabble dispersed, but that Felix slew or took captive the six hundred robbers, against whom his attack had been directed, while the Egyptian escaped with a small number (i.e. small in comparison with the thirty thousand), who may well have been the four thousand mentioned by the author of the Acts in the passage quoted below by Eusebius. It is no more difficult therefore to reconcile the Acts and Josephus in this case than to reconcile Josephus with himself, and we have no reason to assume a mistake upon the part of either one, though as already remarked, numbers are so treacherous in transcription that the difference may really have been originally less than it is. Whenever the main elements of two accounts are in substantial agreement, little stress can be laid upon a difference in figures. Cf. Tholuck, Glaubwürdigkeit, p. 169 (quoted by Hackett, Com. on Acts, p. 254).123:467
Acts xxi. 38.123:468
Valesius and Heinichen assert that Eusebius is incorrect in assigning this uproar, caused by the Egyptian, to the reign of Nero, as he seems to do. But their assertion is quite groundless, for Josephus in both of his accounts relates the uproar among events which he expressly assigns to Neros reign, and there is no reason to suppose that the order of events given by him is incorrect. Valesius and Heinichen proceed on the erroneous assumption that Festus succeeded Felix in the second year of Nero, and that therefore, since Paul was two years in Cæsarea before the recall of Felix, the uprising of the Egyptian, which was referred to at the time of Pauls arrest and just before he was carried to Cæsarea, must have taken place before the end of the reign of Claudius. But it happens to be a fact that Felix was succeeded by Festus at the earliest not before the sixth year of Nero (see chap. 22, note 2, below). There is, therefore, no ground for accusing either Josephus or Eusebius of a blunder in the present case.