Acts 19:19
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
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(19) Many of them also which used curious arts . . .—The Greek word expresses the idea of superstitious arts, overbusy with the supposed secrets of the invisible world. These arts were almost, so to speak, the specialité of Ephesus. Magicians and astrologers swarmed in her streets (comp. the reference to them as analogous to the magicians at the court of Pharaoh in 2Timothy 3:8), and there was a brisk trade in the charms, incantations, books of divination, rules for interpreting dreams, and the like, such as have at all times made up the structure of superstition. The so-called “Ephesian spells” (grammata Ephesia) were small slips of parchment in silk bags, on which were written strange cabalistical words, of little or of lost meaning. The words themselves are given by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. v., c. 46), and he interprets them, though they are so obscure as to baffle the conjectures of philology, as meaning Darkness and Light, the Earth and the Year, the Sun and Truth. They were probably a survival of the old Phrygian cultus of the powers of Nature which had existed prior to the introduction of the Greek name of Artemis.

And burned them before all men.—This, then, was the result of the two sets of facts recorded in Acts 19:12; Acts 19:16. The deep-ingrained superstition of the people was treated, as it were, homœopathically. Charms and names were allowed to be channels of renovation, but were shown to be so by no virtue of their own, but only as being media between the Divine power on the one hand and the faith of the receiver on the other; and so the disease was cured. The student of the history of Florence cannot help recalling the analogous scene in that city, when men and women, artists and musicians, brought the things in which they most delighted—pictures, ornaments, costly dresses—and burnt them in the Piazza of St. Mark at the bidding of Savonarola. The tense of the verb implies that the “burning” was continuous, but leaves it uncertain whether it was an oft-repeated act or one that lasted for some hours. In this complete renunciation of the old evil past we may probably see the secret of the capacity for a higher knowledge which St. Paul recognises as belonging to Ephesus more than to most other churches. (See Note on Acts 20:27.)

Fifty thousand pieces of silver.—The coin referred to was the Attic drachma, usually estimated at about 8½d. of English money, and the total amount answers, accordingly, to £1, 770 17s. 6d., as the equivalent in coin. In its purchasing power, as determined by the prevalent rate of wages (a denarius or drachma for a day’s work), it was probably equivalent to a much larger sum. Such books fetched what might be called “fancy” prices, according to their supposed rareness, or the secrets to which they professed to introduce. Often, it may be, a book was sold as absolutely unique.

19:13-20 It was common, especially among the Jews, for persons to profess or to try to cast out evil spirits. If we resist the devil by faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the using of Christ's name, or his works, as a spell or charm, Satan will prevail against us. Where there is true sorrow for sin, there will be free confession of sin to God in every prayer and to man whom we have offended, when the case requires it. Surely if the word of God prevailed among us, many lewd, infidel, and wicked books would be burned by their possessors. Will not these Ephesian converts rise up in judgement against professors, who traffic in such works for the sake of gain, or allow themselves to possess them? If we desire to be in earnest in the great work of salvation, every pursuit and enjoyment must be given up which hinders the effect of the gospel upon the mind, or loosens its hold upon the heart.Curious arts - Arts or practices requiring skill, address, cunning. The word used here (περίεργα perierga) denotes properly "those things that require care or skill," and was thus applied to the arts of "magic, jugglery, and sleight of hand" that were practiced so extensively in Eastern countries. That such arts were practiced at Ephesus is well known. The Ephesian letters, by which incantations and charms were supposed to be produced, were much celebrated. They seem to have consisted of certain combinations of letters or words, which, by being pronounced with certain intonations of voice, were believed to be effectual in expelling diseases, or evil spirits; or which, by being written on parchment and worn, were supposed to operate as amulets, or charms, to guard from evil spirits or from danger. Thus, Plutarch (Sympos., 7) says, "The magicians compel those who are possessed with a demon to recite and pronounce the Ephesian letters, in a certain order, by themselves." Thus, Clemens Alex. (Strom. ii.) says, "Androcydes, a Pythagorean, says that the letters which are called Ephesian, and which are so celebrated, are symbols, etc." Erasmus says (Adagg. Cent., 2) that there were certain marks and magical words among the Ephesians, by using which they succeeded in every undertaking. Eustath. a.d. Homer, Odyssey τ, says "that those letters were incantations which Croesus used when on the funeral pile, and which greatly befriended him." He adds that, in the war between the Milesians and Ephesians, the latter were thirteen times saved from ruin by the use of these letters. See Grotius and Kuinoel.

Brought their books - Books which explained the arts, or which contained the magical forms and incantations - perhaps pieces of parchment, on which were written the letters which were to be used in the incantations and charms.

And burned them before all men - Publicly. Their arts and offences had been public, and they sought now to undo the evil, as much as lay in their power, as extensively as they had done it.

And they counted - The price was estimated. By whom this was done does not appear. Probably it was not done by those who had been engaged in this business, and who had suffered the loss, but by the people, who were amazed at the sacrifice, and who were astonished at their folly in thus destroying their own property.

Fifty thousand pieces of silver - What coin the word ἀργυρίου arguriou here translated "silver" denotes, it is impossible to tell, and consequently the precise value of this sacrifice cannot be ascertained. If it refers to the Jewish shekel, the sum would be 25,000 (about 5,420 British pounds), since the shekel was worth about half a dollar (circa 1880's). If it refers to Grecian or Roman coin - which is much more probable, as this was a pagan country, where the Jewish coin would not, probably, be much used the value would be much less. Probably, however, it refers to the Attic drachma, which was a silver coin worth about 9d. sterling, or not far from 17 cents, and then the value would be about 8,500 (1,875 British pounds). The precise value is not material. It was a large sum; and it is recorded to show that Christianity had power to induce people to forsake arts that were most lucrative, and to destroy the means of extending and perpetuating those arts, however valuable in a pecuniary point of view they might be. We are to remember, however, that this was not the intrinsic value of these books, but only their value as books of incantation. In themselves they might have been of very little worth. The universal prevalence of Christianity would make much that is now esteemed valuable pro, retry utterly worthless, as, for example, all that is used in gambling, in fraud, in counterfeiting, in distilling ardent spirits for drink, in the slave-trade, and in attempts to impose on and defraud mankind.

19. Many of them … which used curious arts—The word signifies things "overdone"; significantly applied to arts in which laborious but senseless incantations are practiced.

brought their books—containing the mystic formularies.

and burned them before all—The tense, here used graphically, expresses progress and continuance of the conflagration.

counted the price … and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver—about £2000 (presuming it to be the drachma, the current coin of the Levant, of about 10d. value). From their nature they would be costly, and books then bore a value above any standard we are familiar with. The scene must have been long remembered at Ephesus, as a strong proof of honest conviction on the part of the sorcerers and a striking triumph of Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness. The workers of evil were put to scorn, like Baal's priests on Carmel, and the word of God mightily grew and prevailed [Howson].

Thus their good works justified their faith, without which it had been dead, Jam 2:24,26.

Curious arts; or rather idle and vain arts, as judicial astrology, calculating nativities, and all magical arts, which the Ephesians, of all others, were most addicted to and famous for; and may be here called

curious arts, because they were so called by the Ephesians, who practised them; as also because these arts are about curiosities, not necessary for us to know. Otherwise they are diabolical arts, or rather devilish cheats.

Brought their books together, and burned them: these books were not sold, and the price of them brought unto the apostles, because it was looked upon as the price of a whore, which was an abomination, and might not be offered unto God, Deu 23:18.

Fifty thousand pieces of silver: what this sum amounts to is not so certain, because it is not agreed what these pieces were. Some make them Roman or Grecian coin; and others understand by them shekels, which are the Jewish money, and would make this sum so much the greater. Take them for so many pence, a piece of money commonly so called, which weighed the eighth part of an ounce of silver, as Matthew 18:28, they make six thousand two hundred and fifty ounces of silver, or so many crowns, and so much more as silver is worth more per ounce. Such indignation have rue converts against the sins they have been guilty of, that they will not retain any thing that might occasion their return unto them; were it a right eye, they would pull it out.

Many also of them which used curious arts..... Magic arts, soothsaying, necromancy, conjuration, and the like, being convinced of the folly and wickedness of them:

brought their books together; by which they had learned these arts; Ephesus was famous for this sort of learning; here Apollonius Tyaneus, in the beginning of Nero's reign, opened a school and taught magic, and such like things: frequent mention is made of the Ephesian letters, which were no other than enchantments; and even Diana, the goddess of the Ephesians, is said to be a magician (k):

and burned them before all men; to show their detestation of them, and the truth and genuineness of their repentance for their former sins; and that these books might not be a snare to them for the future, nor be made use of by others:

and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver; which is thought to answer to one thousand five hundred sixty two pounds and ten shillings of our money; reckoning a piece of silver, an Attic drachma; for such might be the silver pieces at Ephesus, a city of Greece, and which was of the value of our money seven pence halfpenny; but if Luke meant by pieces of silver, shekels, according to the Jewish way; see Gill on Matthew 26:15 then the sum is much larger, for a shekel was about two shillings and six pence of our money; so that fifty thousand pieces of silver, amount to six thousand two hundred and fifty pounds; a large sum indeed for magic books! some manuscripts read "gold" instead of "silver", which must greatly increase the value.

(k) Tatian. contr. Graecos, p. 147.

Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it {i} fifty thousand pieces of silver.

(i) Those that give the lowest estimate, reckon it to be about eight hundred pounds English.

Acts 19:19. On περίεργος, often joined in Greek writers with ἄτοπος, μάταιος, ἀνόητος, and the like, male sedulus, curiosus, and on τὰ περίεργα, what is useless, especially employed of the practices of sorcerers, see Kypke, II. p. 95, and Wetstein. Comp. περιεργάζεσθαι, Plat. Apol. S. p. 19 B.

The article here denotes that which is known from the context.

τὰς βίβλους] in which the magical arts were described, and the formulae were contained. Such formulae of exorcism, carried on slips as amulets, proceeded in large quantities from the sorcerers at Ephesus; hence the expression Ἐφεσία γράμματα. See Wetstein and Grotius in loc.; Valckenaer, Schol. p. 564; Hermann, gottesd. Alterth. § xlii. 17.

συνεψήφισαν] The sorcerers themselves reckoned up the prices, which, indeed, others could not do. From this is partly explained the greatness of the sum.

εὗρ. ἀργ. μυρ. πέντε] they found (got out as the sum, see Raphel in loc.) in silver money fifty thousand, namely, drachmae.[95] As the word is not ἀργυρίων, but ἀργυρίου (comp. Dem. 949. 1 : τρισχιλίας ἐγκάλεσας ἀργυρίου δραχμάς); as Luke did not write for a Hebrew, and as the scene of the transaction was a Greek city, the opinion of Grotius, Hammond, and Drusius, that shekels are meant, is to be rejected. The statement of a sum, without naming the sort of money of the drachmae, was usual with the Greeks. See Bos, Ellips., ed. Schaefer, p. 119 f.; Bernhardy, p. 187. An Attic drachma (= 6 oboli) is about 24 kreuzers, accordingly the sum is about 20,000 Rhenish gulden[about £1875].

Baur, according to his presupposition, cannot but reject the whole history of the demoniac, etc., as unhistorical; he holds even the judgment in Acts 19:20 as itself unworthy of the associates of an apostle; and the following history, Acts 19:21-40, appears to him only to have arisen through an à priori abstraction, the author wishing to give as splendid a picture as possible of the labours of Paul at Ephesus. Zeller declares himself more neutrally, yet as suspecting the narrative (p. 265), as does also Hausrath, p. 86 f.

[95] The silver drachma stands, as is well known, to the gold drachma in the proportion of 10 to 1.

Acts 19:19. ἱκανοὶ δὲ: to be referred probably to the magicians, as the previous verse refers to their dupes: a Lucan word, see above on Acts 8:11.—τὰ περίεργα: “curious,” Wyclif and A. and R.V. (“magical,” R.V., margin), cf. Vulgate, curiosa (Latin, curiosus, inquisitive, prying), of a person who concerns himself with things unnecessary and profitless to the neglect of the duty which lies nearest, cf. 1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:11, so in classical Greek, Xen., Mem., i., 3, 1. The word is also used of things over and above what is necessary, and so of magical arts, arts in which a man concerns himself with what has not been given him to know, cf. Aristaenetus, Epist., ii. 18, and the striking passage in Plat., Apol., 19 B, where περιεργάζεσθαι is used of Socrates in an accusatory sense (Wendt, Page); the verb is found in Sir 3:23, and περιεργασία, Sir 41:22, but the adjective does not occur either in LXX or Apocrypha. But see especially Deissmann, Bibelstudien, u. s., who finds here another instance of acquaintance with the terminology of magic, and illustrates from the papyri. The R.V. margin gives best sense, as “curious” in the passive sense as here need not have a bad or depreciatory meaning, cf. for a good parallel for “curious” = “magical,” Bacon, Essays, 35; and see “Curious,” Hastings’ B.D.; Skeat, Glossary of Bible Words.συνενέγκαντες: only here in N.T. in this sense, elsewhere frequently, as συμφέρει it is expedient, profitable.—τὰς βίβλους: parchments containing the magical formulæ. For these Ephesus, with its Ἐφέσια γράμματα worn as amulets and cherished as charms, was famous; “Ephesus” (Ramsay), Hastings’ B.D., i., p. 723; Wetstein, in loco; amongst other references, Plut., Sympos., vii., 5; Clement of Alex., Strom., v., 8, 46, and also in Renan, Saint Paul, p. 344; Blass, in loco; C. and H., small edition, p. 371; and see also Deissmann, Bibelstudien, u. s.κατέκαιον: imperfect, “describes them as throwing book after book into the burning fire,” Hackett, see also Blass, in loco. Plumptre recalls a parallel scene when the artists and musicians of Florence brought their ornaments, pictures, dresses, and burnt them in the Piazza of St. Mark at the bidding of Savonarola.—συνεψήφισαν: only here in this sense, not in LXX (cf. Acts 1:26).—ἀργ. μυρ. πέντε, sc., δραχμῶν ἀργ.: the sum is very large, nearly £2000, but probably such books would be expensive, and we must take into account in estimating it the immense trade and rich commerce of Ephesus, and the fact that we need not suppose that all the Christian converts were to be found only amongst the slaves and poorer classes (Nösgen). Such books would certainly fetch a fancy price. It may no doubt be maintained that their measuring all things by money value indicates the Oriental popular tale (Ramsay), but may we not see in the statement the knowledge of a writer who thus hits off the Oriental standard of worth, especially in a chapter otherwise so rich and exact in its description of Ephesian localities and life?

19. Many also of them which used curious arts] The Greek has not the same word for “many” here, as in the previous verse. To mark this the Rev. Ver. has here “not a few.” The “curious arts” were magic, jugglery and all such practices as make pretence to supernatural agency. The word is used of magic arts both in classical and patristic Greek, and the kindred verb is used of Socrates (Plato, Apol. 8) because of his statement concerning his inward spiritual monitor or dæmon.

brought their books together] We have seen above that the Jews had receipts for incantations and exorcisms professedly dating back to the days of Solomon, and among the heathen population of Ephesus such writings were vastly abundant. Indeed “Ephesian letters” was a common expression, signifying charms composed of magic words and worn as amulets, and supposed to be efficacious against all harm. We are told of a wrestler who could not be thrown while he wore. such a charm, but who was easily overcome when it was taken away. Some of these amulets were said to be composed of the letters which were upon the crown and girdle and feet of the statue of Artemis in the temple at Ephesus. See Farrar’s St Paul, ii. 26, and the authorities there quoted.

and burned them before [rather, in the sight of] all men. That is, where all might see who were there. We must remember that what they burnt were rolls of written material, not books after the modern fashion, which are extremely difficult to burn. Such a burning pile must have attracted much notice, and was a proof that the descent of the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:6) had wrought in Ephesus in the same way as aforetime in Jerusalem.

and they counted the price of them] And in the sacrifice we must think not only of the cost of the books, but of the hopes of gain which were thrown also into the fire by those to whom “curious arts” had been a revenue.

and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver] As the scene of this abjuration was among a Greek population, it is almost certain that the Attic drachma is the coin in which the reckoning is made. As 24 of these were a little more in value than our English pound, we may consider that more than two thousand pounds worth of rolls and slips of magic treatises was consumed.

Acts 19:19. Ἱκανοὶ, many) Even magicians may be converted: ch. Acts 8:13 (Simon Magus).—τὰ περίεργα, curious arts) magic arts, in great variety. This appellation has in it a Meiosis [less said than is meant. Append.]—συνενέγκαντες, having brought together) with great unanimity.—τὰς βίβλους, their books) True religion abolishes bad books: and the world had been filled (crammed) with such books. Ephesus burned up all curious and bad books as accursed (anathema when the word of the Lord began to prevail: in turn (by a righteous compensation), Ephesus afterwards enjoyed good books, nay, was made the depository of the sacred books. The Epistle of Paul sent to the Ephesians also is extant: Timothy was at Ephesus when Paul wrote both the Epistles to him. Furthermore, Timothy was desired to carry to Rome from Asia the books for Paul when close to his martyrdom, 2 Timothy 4:13; books which no doubt were a portion of the books of Holy Scripture: and these not of the Old Testament, of which there was everywhere an abundance, but the writings of Paul himself, or even of other apostles, and these chiefly of parchment, for the sake of durability. Paul desired Timothy, when he came, to bring these with him safely; not, I imagine, with the intention of selling them for the sake of alms-giving, but in order that he might commit these to Timothy face to face, before his martyrdom, for the weightiest reasons, inasmuch as he had designed to make Timothy in some measure his own successor in the Evangelical office. Timothy brought back to Ephesus, or to that region, after the martyrdom of Paul (comp. Hebrews 13:23), most costly treasures (κειμήλια, deposits), as we may suppose. It was in the same place that the writings of John, after the death of John also, were in especial esteem. As to the autograph Gospel of John, see Appar. Crit. p. 602, with which comp. p. 420. The Epistles of John, and the last verse of the first, are especially appropriate (applicable) to Ephesus. The Apocalypse, sent first from Patmos to Ephesus, was read first at Ephesus. What is the purport of this remark? In the Appar. pp. 770, 884 (Ed. ii. pp. 480, 620), I have written that it is not an unreasonable expectation, that the autographs of the apostles, furnished with appropriate criteria to test them, may at some time be restored to the light. What if some of them lie hid at Ephesus? and also at Thessalonica? See note on 1 Thessalonians 1:1. It is an opinion, nothing more; one not however to be ridiculed, inasmuch as being harmless, nay, useful in deterring critics from rashness, lest, if they wander too far out of the track, the original manuscripts may hereafter confute them.—κατέκαιον, turned up) [regarding them as anathema, or accursed.—V. g.] This was better than to sell them, even though the money had been spent upon the poor.—ἐνώπιον πάντων, in the presence of all) A remarkable spectacle.—ἀργυρίου μυριάδας πέντε) fifty thousand drachms. The drachm almost corresponds to the denarius; of which I have treated on Cic. Ep. pp. 76, 452, 723. The Argentine money approaches nearest to this, which is equivalent to 12 Kreuzer, 3 heller; so that 5 drachms should be 1 florin and a little more; 50,000 drachms is more than 10,000 florins.[113] This is the price of a large library.

[113] The Greek drachm was properly about 9¾d.: the Roman denarius, 8½d. But subsequently the drachm fell in weight, so as to be equal to the denarius.—E. and T.

Verse 19. - And not a few for many... also, A.V.; that practiced for which used A.V.; in the sight of all for before all men, A.V. That practiced curious arts (τῶν τὰ περίεργα πραξάντων). The adjective περίεργος applied to persons means "a busybody" (1 Timothy 5:13), one who does what it is not his business to do, and pries into matters with which he has no concern (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:11); applied to things, it means that which it is not anybody's business to attend to, that which is vain and superfluous; and then, by a further extension of meaning, that which is forbidden, and specially magic arts and occult sciences. Fifty thousand pieces of silver. There is a difference of opinion as to what coin or weight is meant. If Greek coinage, which is perhaps natural in a Greek city, fifty thousand drachmae of silver would be meant, equal to £1875, If Jewish shekels are meant, the sum would amount to £7000 ('Speaker's Commentary'). It is in favor of drachmae being meant that, with the exception of Joshua 7:21 and Judges 17:2, the LXX. always express the word "shekel" or "didrachm" after the numeral and before the word "silver." If St. Luke, therefore, had meant shekels, he would have written δίδραχμα ἀργυρίου But it was the Greek usage to omit the word δραχμή before ἀργυρίου when the reckoning was by drachmae (Meyer). Acts 19:19Curious arts (τὰ περίεργα)

The word means, literally, overwrought, elaborate, and hence recondite or curious, as magical practices. Only here and 1 Timothy 5:13, in its original sense of those who busy themselves excessively (περί): busybodies. The article indicates the practices referred to in the context.


Containing magical formulas. Heathen writers often allude to the Ephesian letters. These were symbols, or magical sentences written on slips of parchment, and carried about as amulets. Sometimes they were engraved on seals.

Burned (κατέκαιον)

Burned them up (κατά). The imperfect is graphic, describing them as throwing book after book on the pile.

Counted (συνεψήφισαν)

Only here in New Testament. See on Luke 14:28. The preposition σύν, together, in the compound verb, indicates the reckoning up of the sum-total.

Fifty thousand pieces of silver

If reckoned in Jewish money, about thirty-five thousand dollars; if in Greek drachmae, as is more probable, about nine thousand three hundred dollars.

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