Theudas (thyū'dăs) (died c. 46 AD) was a Jewish rebel who probably claimed to be the Messiah. His name, if a Greek compound, may mean "gift of God", although other scholars believe its etymology is Semitic. Other scholars claim the name means “flowing with water”.At some point between 44 and 46 AD, Theudas led his followers in a short-lived revolt.
Our principal source for the story is Josephus, who wrote:
It came to pass, while Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the Jordan river; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. Many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them. After falling upon them unexpectedly, they slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. (Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98)
The movement was dispersed, and was never heard of again.
Josephus does not specifically state that Theudas claimed to be the Messiah, but this is likely in view of his journey into the wilderness and claim to be able to divide the river. Josephus also does not provide a number for Theudas' followers, but the Acts of the Apostles, if it is referring to the same Theudas (see below), reports that they numbered about 400. The ease with which they were overcome suggests that they were unarmed, unlike many other Messianic insurgents of the period.
"Men of Israel, be cautious in deciding what to do with these men. Some time ago, Theudas came forward, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. But he was killed and his whole following was broken up and disappeared. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census; he induced some people to revolt under his leadership, but he too perished and his whole following was scattered." (NEB, Acts 5:36-8)
The difficulty is that the rising of Theudas is here given as before that of Judas of Galilee, which is itself dated to the time of the taxation (c. 6-7 AD). Josephus, on the other hand, says that Theudas was 45 or 46, which is after Gamaliel is speaking, and long after Judas the Galilean.
There are several arguments put forward to solve this problem. One is that Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, makes a mistake in his reading of Josephus, and takes a later reference in Josephus to the execution of the "sons of Judas the Galilean" after the rebellion of Theudas as saying that the rebellion of Judas was later. Another possibility advanced by scholars is that Luke used a different, inaccurate source (possibly one that Josephus also used when he compiled his history). It is also possible that there were multiple "Theudases" or the text of Acts has been transmitted incorrectly.