Alexander, i.e. in A.D. 46 or 47, occurred the great famine which Agabus had foretold, and in which the Antiochene church sent help to that of Jerusalem by the ministry of Barnabas and Saul (Acts xi. 30, xii. 25). Thus the earliest date at which the commencement of the first missionary journey (Acts xiii. 4) can be placed is the spring of A.D. 47. The journey extended from Salamis “throughout the whole island” of Cyprus as far as Paphos, and on the mainland from Pamphylia to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, at each of which places indications are given of a prolonged visit (xiii. 49, xiv. 3, 6, 7, 21). The same places were visited in reverse order on the return journey, as far as Perga on the Pamphylian coast; but instead of revisiting Cyprus the voyage to Syria was this time made direct. In estimating the length of time occupied by this first missionary journey, it must be remembered that a sea voyage could never have been undertaken, and land travel only rarely, during the winter months, say November to March; and as the amount of the work accomplished is obviously more than could fall within the travelling season of a single year, the winter of 47–48 must have been spent in the interior, and return to the coast and to Syria made only some time before the end of autumn A.D. 48. The succeeding winter, at least, was spent again at Antioch of Syria (xiv. 28). The council at Jerusalem of Acts xv. will fall at earliest in the spring of A.D. 49, and as only “certain days” were spent at Antioch after it (xv. 36) the start on the second missionary journey might have been made in the (late) summer of the same year. The “confirmation” of the existing churches of Syria and Cilicia, and of those of the first journey beginning with Derbe (xv. 41, xvi. 5), cannot have been completed under several months, nor would the Apostle have commenced the strictly missionary part of the journey in districts not previously visited, before the opening of the travelling season of A.D. 50. No delay was then made on the Asiatic side: it may still have been in spring when St Paul crossed to Europe and began the course of preaching at Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea and Athens which finally brought him to Corinth. The stay of eighteen months at the last-named place (xviii. 11) will naturally begin at the end of one travelling season and end at the beginning of another, i.e. from the autumn of A.D. 50 to the spring of A.D. 52. From Corinth the Apostle went to Jerusalem to “salute the church,” and then again to Antioch in Syria, where he stayed only for “a time” (xviii. 22), and soon left—on the third missionary journey, as conventionally reckoned—proceeding “in order” through the churches of the interior of Asia Minor. These journeys and the intervening halts must have occupied seven or eight months, and it must have been about the end of the year when St Paul established his new headquarters at Ephesus. The stay there lasted between two and three years (xix. 8, 10, xx, 31), and cannot have terminated before the spring of A.D. 55. From Ephesus he went into Europe, and after “much teaching” given to the churches of Macedonia (xx. 2), spent the three winter months at Corinth, returning to Philippi in time for the Passover (xx. 3, 6) of A.D. 56. Pentecost of the same year was spent at Jerusalem, and there St Paul was arrested, and kept in prison at Caesarea for two full years, until Festus succeeded Felix as governor (xx. 16, xxiv. 27), an event which, on this arrangement of the chronology of the missionary journeys, would therefore fall in A.D. 58.
Care, however, must be taken to remember exactly what this line of argument amounts to—what it can fairly be said to have proved, and what it still leaves open. It has been shown, firstly, that the missionary journeys cannot have commenced before the spring of A.D. 47, and, secondly, that between their commencement and the end of the two years’ imprisonment at Caesarea not less than eleven full years must have elapsed. Consequently A.D. 58 appears to be the earliest date possible for the arrival of Festus. On the other hand, a later date for Festus is not absolutely excluded. It is possible that the first missionary journey should be placed in A.D. 48 instead of A.D. 47; and it is possible, though not probable, that the missionary journeys should be spread over one year more than has been suggested above. At any rate, then, the alternative is open that every date given above, from A.D. 47 to A.D. 58, should be moved on one year, with the result of placing Festus’s arrival in A.D. 59.
It is now time to run to the direct evidence for the date of Festus’s arrival as procurator, in order to test by it the result already tentatively obtained.
2. The replacement of Felix by Festus. This is the pivot date of St Paul’s later life, but unfortunately two schools of critics date it as differently as A.D. 55 and A.D. 60 (or 61). The former are represented by Harnack, the latter by Wieseler, whom Lightfoot follows. It can be said confidently that the truth is between these two extremes (though in what exact year it is not easy to say), as will be evident from a consideration of the arguments urged, which in each case appear less to prove one extreme than to disprove its opposite.
Arguments for the Later Date, A.D. 60 or 61.—(α) St Paul, at the time of his arrest, two years before Felix’s recall, addresses him as “for many years past a judge for this nation” (Acts xxiv. 10, 27). It is certain that Felix succeeded Cumanus in A.D. 52, for Tacitus mentions Cumanus’s recall under that year, Josephus immediately before the notice of the completion of Claudius’s twelfth year [January, A.D. 53], Eusebius probably under Claudius II, that is, between September 51 and September 52 (for the meaning of the regnal years in the Chronicle of Eusebius see the present writer’s article in Journal of Theological Studies, January 1900, pp. 188–192). It is argued that “many years” cannot mean less than six or seven, so that St Paul must have been speaking at earliest in 58 or 59, and Felix will have left Judaea at earliest in 60 or 61. But this argument overlooks the fact that Felix had been in some position which might properly be described as that of “judge for this nation” before he became governor of all Palestine in A.D. 52. In the words of Tacitus, Felix was at the time of that appointment iampridem Iudaeae impositus (Annals, xii. 54); he certainly supposes Felix to have been already governor of Samaria, and apparently of Judaea too, and only recognizes Cumanus as governor of Galilee; and Josephus, though he says nothing of this, and treats Cumanus as the sole procurator down to A.D. 52, implies that Felix had been in some position where the Jewish authorities could judge of his fitness when he tells us that the high priest Jonathan used to press on Felix, as a reason for urging him to govern well, the fact he that had asked for his appointment to the procuratorship (Ant. xx. viii. 5). If Felix had acted in some position of responsibility in Palestine before 52 (perhaps for some time before), St Paul could well have spoken of “many years” at least as early as 56 or 57.
(β) Josephus enumerates after the accession of Nero (October 54) a long catalogue of events which all took place under the procuratorship of Felix, including the revolt of “the Egyptian” which was already “before these days” at the time of St Paul’s arrest, two years from the end of Felix’s tenure. This suggests, no doubt, that the Egyptian rebelled at earliest in 54–55, and makes it probable that St Paul’s arrest did not take place before (the Pentecost of) A.D. 56; and it implies certainly that the main or most important part of Felix’s governorship fell, in Josephus’s view, under Nero. But as two years only of Felix’s rule (52–54) fell under Claudius, this procedure would be quite natural on Josephus’s part if his recall were dated in 58 or 59, so that four or five years fell under Nero. And there is no need at all to suppose that all the incidents which the historian masses under his account of Felix were successive: events in Emesa, Chalcis, Caesarea and Jerusalem may easily have been synchronous.
The arguments, then, brought forward in favour of A.D. 60 or 61 do not do more than bring the rule of Felix down to 58 or 59.
Arguments for an Early Date, A.D. 55 or 56.—(α) Eusebius’s Chronicle places the arrival of Festus in Nero 2, October 55–56, and Eusebius’s chronology of the procurators goes back probably through Julius Africanus (himself a Palestinian) to contemporary authorities like the Jewish kings of Justus of Tiberias. But (i.) Nero 2 is really September 56–September 57; (ii.) it is doubtful whether Eusebius had any authority to depend on here other than Josephus, who gives no precise year for Festus—Julius Africanus is hardly probable, since we know that his chronicle was very jejune for the Christian period—and if so, Eusebius had to find a year as best he could.(β) Felix, on his return to Rome, was prosecuted by the Jews for misgovernment, but was acquitted through the influence of his brother Pallas. Pallas had been minister and favourite of Claudius,
- Dr C. Erbes (Texte and Untersuchungen, new series, iv. 1) attempts to interpret the evidence of Eusebius in favour of the later date for Festus as follows: Eusebius’s date for Festus is to be found in Nero 1, by striking a mean between the Armenian, Claudius 12, and the Latin, Nero 2; it is really to be understood as reckoned, not by years of Nero, but by years of Agrippa; and as Eusebius erroneously antedated Agrippa’s reign by five years, commencing it with A.D. 45 instead of A.D. 50, his date for Festus is five years too early also, and should be moved to Nero 6, A.D. 59-60. The whole of this theory appears to the present writer to be a gigantic mare’s nest: see Journal of Theological Studies (October 1901), pp. 120-123.