Theudas and Apollos

© 2007 Dr. Barbara Thiering


The irrepressible Prodigal Son, Theudas, was in his prime between 4 BC and 6 AD. He was head of the Egyptian Therapeuts, whose customs were described with admiration by Philo in his essay The Contemplative Life. As Jews living in Alexandria, they were in touch both with their homeland Judea and with the Greco-Roman culture of the most advanced city of their time. Their religious opinions were very much influenced by political changes. Theudas reflected them by veering from one side to the other, as evidenced by the extremes of behaviour of the Prodigal Son. His history from the pesher is given in detail in Section 6, Part A, the Pre-History, where it is interwoven with the accounts of other leaders between 1 and 6 AD, the vitally formative period.

The pesher leaves no doubt that the Therapeuts were the immediate predecessors of the first Christians, even closer than the related monastic Essenes. After the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC there was a period of acute instability in Judea, with one would-be king after another supported by a clique arising to claim the authority of Herod. The Roman overlords, who had left them in peace during Herod's strong regime, did not tolerate the brigandage that now went on. Between 4 BC and 6 AD they allowed Archelaus Herod to rule as an ethnarch only. He was one of Herod's few surviving sons after he had put the more ambitious sons to death. Archelaus was manifestly weak and self-serving, and in 6 AD a number of leading Jewish citizens requested Rome to remove him. The Roman occupation then began, that of the Wrath, the date called the Period of Wrath in one of the Scrolls (CD 1: 5-9).

The organization under Herod the Great had established 10 fee-paying provinces throughout the Diaspora. Jews living there were more prosperous than those in the homeland, and had developed varying attitudes to Jerusalem and its temple, some revering it, others having little respect for it. With the re-assertion of the Roman power, there was a division of opinion, affecting the destination of the fees.

Five of the provinces, those in Asia Minor, maintained their loyalty to the homeland and Jerusalem, but respected the Roman power enough to be unwilling to take up arms against it. In the other five, especially those with eastern connections, aggressive anti-Roman feeling led to an ideology of martyrdom , with a willingness to take up arms in defence of traditional Judaism. The accumulated mission property was treated as a means of financing weaponry. These five consisted of two in eastern countries, two in Egypt in its current mood, and one in Rome itself, where Jews associated with Magians were dreaming of undermining the imperial power and taking it over for themselves. Theudas the Prodigal Son reflected Egypt in its current mood, demanding half of the property of the Father, who was the present priestly Pope Simeon the Essene.

The mission property was stored in the vaults at Qumran, the inventory recorded in the Copper Scroll. Archelaus claimed it because it had all come to Herod the Great, and he misused it in "loose living" , as did his wife the immoral Glaphyra. They encouraged Theudas' ambition, and he went so far as to have an affair with Glaphyra, "wasting his living with harlots". The extreme miltant Judas the Galilean was rising in power, and Theudas with him adopted Pharisee nationalist views, being called Saddok the Pharisee the accomplice of Judas in in Josephus' record (Josephus, Antiquities 18, 7-8).

The consequence of his affair was that he was exiled to the Rome branch of the mission, together with his close associate Joseph the father of Jesus. Theudas returned to the homeland in December 4 AD to join the new campaign of Judas the Galilean. It was not until a year later, in December 5 AD, that Theudas was reconciled with Simeon and the other leaders of the peace party. By that time it was apparent to many that it was useless to oppose Rome, and that the Sadducee policy of appeasement would prevail in government.

Theudas was now appointed a deputy abbot under Ananus the Elder, the Sadducee priest who acted as abbot to the schools of Therapeuts, and was about to be appointed high priest by the Romans. Theudas was given a long white robe like that of priests, a ring on his finger to show that he was a bishop "married" to his community, and sandals to show that he was not a sanctuary priest, but a missionary traveling outside (Luke 15:22).

In March of 6 AD the Roman occupation, the Wrath, was formally inaugurated with a census. Once they discovered that they had lost their national independence, it was too much for the militants. Theudas again joined Judas the Galilean in his desperate uprising, which was easily put down by the superior Roman power. Judas was arrested and executed. Theudas, however, having bonds with both peace and war parties, escaped to Damascus, which was outside the territory governed by Rome. With Joseph, he acted in a a pair of lay leaders calling themselves the Star (Joseph the Star of David) and the Sceptre (Theudas the military ruler), following a biblical verse (Numbers 24:17). The Qumran Damascus Document refers to them under these names in CD 7:16-20.

Theudas survived the next quarter century until his old age in the gospel period. He remained committed to the conversion of pagans, encouraging Gentiles who were willing to become proselytes and adopt Jewish identity. He preserved the imagery of Exodus and Holy War that was dramatised by the Therapeuts in their regular pentecontad meetings. According to the differing political opinions in Alexandria the Chief Therapeut sometimes acted as the Moses of an Exodus , sometimes as the Joshua for the subsequent Holy War. As a Joshua, he should, at a date set by heaven, make a miraculous crossing of the river Jordan, which would divide to open up to him and his followers a Promised Land of world political power.

A new factor had entered the politics in the person of the prince Agrippa, who aimed to gain Rome's approval to have the Herodian monarchy restored. Returning to his homeland in 23 AD, he worked for the support of the different factions of ascetics, who had access to the mission funds that he badly needed. Agrippa was a skilled manipulator, turning from one faction to the other, Sadducees and Pharisees. Theudas, who could be with both sides, found himself conflicted. But when the blundering procurator Pontius Pilate offended everyone by showing contempt for the sanctity of Jerusalem, Theudas joined in the armed protest against him. A triarchy of leaders, patterned on the original Roman triumvirate, was re-formed, with Simon Magus as the Priest, Judas Iscariot as the Levite-Prophet, and Theudas as the King.

The story of the failure of the protest and subsequent crucifixions by Pilate is interwoven with that of Jesus, and has been told in Section 6, Part B. Theudas in old age was revered by all as a great hero of the original Resistance. He would not be able to endure the physical strain of a crucifixion, even though conspirators led by Antipas Herod intended that it should be only temporary. By deceiving Pilate, Jesus was substituted for Theudas-Barabbas. But in gratitude, the old man helped to implement the escape of Jesus from the caves.

Theudas met his end in March, 44 AD. Josephus, writing in Rome in the 70's and relying on earlier written records, knew of him under that name only from a document recording the troubles in the court of the Agrippas. In Antiquites 20, 97-98, he reported from his source:
"During the period when Fadus was procurator of Judea, a certain impostor named Theudas persuaded the majority of the masses to take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan river. He stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage. With this talk he deceived many. Fadus, however, did not permit them to reap the fruit of their folly, but sent against them a squadron of cavalry. These fell upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many prisoners. Theudas himself was captured, whereupon they cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem."

So perished Theudas, certain that the history of the Old Testament Joshua was about to repeat itself in his person. Another man , Apollos, was to succeed him, using his titles, making a similar experiment at a miraculous crossing and conquest of a "Jericho". The Book of Revelation makes plain the connection with the first Christians of these figures, condemned in the police records quoted by Josephus.

THEUDAS Names and Pseudonyms. Theudas. Saddok the Pharisee. Prodigal Son. Our Fathers. Nicodemus. Barabbas. Joshua. The Two. Sceptre. Earthquake. Moses. Galileans. Thaddeus. Satan successor of Judas Iscariot. Judas not Iscariot, Judas of James. Alexander. In Revelation 9:11, Abaddon, Apollyon.


"At this time (57-58 AD) there came to Jerusalem from Egypt a man who declared that he was a prophet and advised the masses of the common people to go out with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives, which lies opposite the city at a distance of 5 stadia. For he asserted that he wished to demonstrate from there that at his command Jerusalem's walls would fall down, through which he promised to provide them an entrance into the city. When Felix (the Roman governor) heard of this he ordered his soldiers to take up their arms. Setting out from Jerusalem with a large force of cavalry and infantry, he fell upon the Egyptian and his followers, slaying 400 of them and taking 200 prisoners. The Egyptian himself escaped from the battle and disappeared." (Antiquities 20, 169-172).

"Felix (the Roman governor, who had married into the family of Agrippa II) also bore a grudge against Jonathan (Annas) the high priest because of his frequent admonition to improve the administration of the affairs of Judea. For Jonathan feared that he himself might incur the censure of the multitude in that he had requested Caesar to dispatch Felix as procurator of Judea. Felix accordingly devised a pretext that would remove from his presence one who was a constant nuisance to him; for incessant rebukes are annoying to those who choose to do wrong. It was such reasons that moved Felix to bribe Jonathan's most trusted friend, a native of Jerusalem named Doras, with a promise to pay a great sum, to bring in brigands to attack Jonathan and kill him. Doras agreed and contrived to get him murdered by the brigands in the following way. Certain of these brigands went up to the city as if they intended to worship God. With daggers concealed under their clothes, they mingled with the people about Jonathan and assassinated him....The murder remained unpunished." (Antiquities 20, 162-165).

"A new species of banditti was springing up in Jerusalem, the so-called sicarii, who committed murders in broad daylight in the heart of the city. The festivals were their special seasons, when they would mingle with the crowd, carrying short daggers concealed under their clothing, with which they stabbed their enemies....The first to be assassinated by them was Jonathan the high priest." (Jewish War 2, 254-256)

In Jerusalem in 58 AD, Paul was asked: "Are you not the Egyptian, who before these days stirred up and led out at the Wilderness 4000 men of the Sicarii?" (Acts 21:38)

The last quoted source, from Acts, indicates a continuity of some kind between Paul's Christians and the Therapeuts in their militant phase under the emperor Nero (54-68 AD). So great was the threat posed by Nero to any kind of religious freedom that an honorable Jew in a military tradition was bound to revert to aggression. The Sicarii arose, under "the Egyptian", Apollos the successor of Theudas, with a new kind of warfare, mingling with crowds with daggers under their garments.

Paul and Apollos had been closely connected in the work of mission under the previous emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). In Corinth in Greece, where a center of mission had been established in the 1st century BC, the rise of Christians had divided it on the matter of the equality of Gentiles. There were now four competing parties: that of Cephas (Peter), that of Paul, that of Apollos, and that of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12). Apollos represented the original Therapeuts preferring Gentiles to be circumcised, Peter and Paul the different kinds of Christians not making Gentiles into Jews, and Christ was Jesus himself, living in that city in the early 50's.

The pro-Roman Christians were sorely tested by Nero, but simply endured, while Apollos took the step of an armed demonstration in terms of the Joshua Holy War imagery. Jerusalem, occupied by the Roman power, became the "Jericho" whose walls had to be brought down by the demonstrators marching from a hermitage on the Mount of Olives.

Felix was involved with the Sicarii, secretly controlling them, at the time he arranged for them to assassinate Jonathan Annas. The words in Acts 21:38 show that Paul was suspected of being associated with the Sicarii, and that they were the same ones who organized the Joshua demonstration. But at the time of that demonstration Felix ordered them to be arrested. Apollos the Egyptian, however, escaped. It would be quite consistent with Felix's double dealing, for which he was subsequently dismissed and put on trial in Rome, if he took both actions, the order for arrest covering his own complicity with the Sicarii.

The belief that Paul had an association with the Sicarii suggests the implication that he was an influence behind their attack on Jonathan Annas, even though he was not present in the country at the time. Felix had married into the family of Agrippa II, in whose court the Christians were now dominant. The long history of tension between Jesus and Jonathan Annas - the least capable of the Annas brothers- is given through the pesher, and would account for an attack on Jonathan through Paul, who was Jesus' devoted servant. When Paul in his final letter wrote "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm" (2 Timothy 4:14), he meant Apollos, using the title Alexander that was also used of Theudas as the head of the Therapeuts of Alexandria (Mark 15:21). By carrying out Felix's plan to destroy Jonathan Annas through the Sicarii, Apollos associated with Christians had given reason for suspicion of both Paul and Jesus, who were known to be hostile to Jonathan. Paul's eventual execution by Rome may be seen as a consequence of the case against Felix.

The mingling of religion with politics is only too familiar in our own times. Yet it has to be borne in mind that the Christians inspired by Jesus gave the true facts through the pesher, including their own possible wrongdoing.

APOLLOS. Names and Pseudonyms. Apollos. Alexander. The Egyptian, head of Sicarii. The viper on Malta.

Return to Biographies
  • Return to main page