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Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (3)

December 28, 2010

Peter’s address: Acts 4:4

Robert Grant claimed that the population of Jerusalem was too small for 5,000 converts to Christianity.[1] Grant’s estimate of the population of Jerusalem relied on an influential study by Jeremias in 1943, [2] [3] but did not mention that Jeremias calculated a far higher population figure for festival seasons such as passover, at which he estimated Jerusalem would contain up to 125,000 pilgrims.[4]

Furthermore the lower estimate of Jeremias is significantly lower than the lowest of the moderate to high estimates made by Wilkinson in 1974 (70,398 under Herod the Great),[5] Broshi in 1976 (60,000),[6] Maier in 1976 (50,000, with three times that many during festival seasons),[7] and Levine in 2002 (60,000-70,000).[8]

Accordingly, Cousland notes that ‘recent estimates of the population of Jerusalem suggest something in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand’.[9] Estimates for the number of Christians in the Roman empire by the end of the first century range widely from 7,500 to more than 50,000. [10] [11] [12]

Article here.


[1] Grant ‘A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 145 (1963).

[2] Jeremias, ‘Die Einwohnerzhal Jerusalems z. Zt. Jesu’, ZDPV, 63, pp. 24-31 (1943).

[3] ‘Jeremias, for instance has estimated that there was a population of 25,000 in first century Jerusalem,’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[4] ‘Thus one would arrive at 125,000 festival pilgrims.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 261 (1995).

[5] Wilkinson, ‘Ancient Jerusalem, Its Water Supply and Population’, PEFQS 106, pp. 33-51 (1974).

[6] ‘This also gives a figure of around 60,000 at the time of the first Christians.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 247 (1995).

[7] Maier, ‘First Christians: Pentecost and the Spread of Christianity’, p. 22 (1976).

[8]‘According to Levine, because the new area encompassed by the Third Wall was not densely populated, assuming that it contained half the population of the rest of the city, there were between 60,000 and 70,000 people living in Jerusalem.’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[9] Cousland, ‘The Crowds in the Gospel of Matthew’, p. 60 (2002).

[10] Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’, pp. 6-7 (1996); this influential study dominates the literature, but has been questioned as it involves projecting backwards from fourth century estimates.

[11] Wilken, ‘The Christians as the Romans Saw Them’, p. 31 (1984).

[12] ‘Estimates for the number of Christians by 100 C.E. range from as low as 7,500 to upwards of 50,000 out of the approximately sixty million inhabitants of the Roman Empire.’, Novak, ‘Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts’, pp. 12-13 (2001).

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