Acts 21:38
Are not you that Egyptian, which before these days made an uproar, and led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?
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(38) Art not thou that Egyptian?—The Greek has an illative particle which is wanting in the English: Art not thou then that Egyptian? This was the inference drawn by the chief captain from the fact that his prisoner spoke in Greek. The Egyptian was a false prophet, who a short time before this, under the procuratorship of Felix, had led 30, 000 men (?) to the Mount of Olives, promising them that they should see Jerusalem destroyed (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 6; Wars, ii. 13, § 5). His followers were routed by Felix, but he himself escaped; and the chief captain infers from the tumult raised by a Greek-speaking Jew, that the Egyptian must have reappeared. Probably this was one of the vague reports in the confused clamour of the multitude. The words of the question have, however, been taken, on grammatical grounds, in a different sense: Thou art not, then, that Egyptian? as though his speaking Greek had changed the chiliarch’s previous impression. Against this, however, there is the fact that an Egyptian Jew, coming from the very land of the Septuagint, would naturally speak Greek, and the inference that St. Paul was not the Egyptian because he knew that language would hardly be intelligible.

Four thousand men that were murderers.—Josephus, as has been said, gives a much larger number, but his statistics, in such cases, are never to be relied on. The word for murderer (sicarii, literally, dagger-bearers) was applied to the cut-throat bands who about this period infested well-nigh every part of Palestine, and who differed from the older robbers in being, like the Thugs in India, more systematically murderous (Jos. Wars, ii. 13, § 3). In the siege of Jerusalem, their presence, sometimes in alliance with the more fanatic of the zealots, tended to aggravate all its horrors.

21:27-40 In the temple, where Paul should have been protected as in a place of safety, he was violently set upon. They falsely charged him with ill doctrine and ill practice against the Mosaic ceremonies. It is no new thing for those who mean honestly and act regularly, to have things laid to their charge which they know not and never thought of. It is common for the wise and good to have that charged against them by malicious people, with which they thought to have obliged them. God often makes those a protection to his people, who have no affection to them, but only have compassion for sufferers, and regard to the public peace. And here see what false, mistaken notions of good people and good ministers, many run away with. But God seasonably interposes for the safety of his servants, from wicked and unreasonable men; and gives them opportunities to speak for themselves, to plead for the Redeemer, and to spread abroad his glorious gospel.Art not thou that Egyptian? - That Egyptian was probably a Jew who resided in Egypt. Josephus has given an account of this Egyptian which strikingly accords with the statement here recorded by Luke. See Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 8, section 6, and Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 13, section 5. The account which he gives is, that this Egyptian, whose name he does not mention, came from Egypt to Jerusalem, and said that he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go with him to the Mount of Olives. He said further that he would show them from thence how the walls of Jerusalem would fall down: and he promised them that he would procure for them an entrance through those walls when they were fallen down. Josephus adds (Jewish Wars) that he got together 30,000 men that were deluded by him; "these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place. But Felix, who was apprised of his movements, marched against him with the Roman soldiers, and defeated him, and killed 400 of them, and took 200 alive. But the Egyptian escaped himself out of the fight, but did not appear anymore." It was natural that the Roman tribune should suppose that Paul was this Egyptian, and that his return had produped this commotion and excitement among the people.

Madest an uproar - Producing a sedition, or a rising among the people. Greek: "That Egyptian, who before these days having risen up."

Into the wilderness - This corresponds remarkably with the account of Josephus. He indeed mentions that he led his followers to the Mount of Olives, but he expressly says that "he led them round about from the wilderness." This wilderness was the wild and uncultivated mountainous tract of country lying to the east of Jerusalem, and between it and the river Jordan. See the notes on Matthew 3:1. It is also another striking coincidence showing the truth of the narrative, that neither Josephus nor Luke mention the name of this Egyptian, though he was so prominent and acted so distinguished a part.

Four thousand men - There is here a remarkable discrepancy between the chief captain and Josephus. The latter says that there were 30,000 men. In regard to this, the following remarks may be made:

(1) This cannot be alleged to convict Luke of a false statement, for his record is, that the chief captain made the statement, and it cannot be proved that Luke has put into his mouth words which he did not utter. All that he is responsible for is a correct report of what the Roman tribune said, not the truth or falsehood of his statement. It is certainly possible that that might have been the common estimate of the number then, and that the account given by Josephus might have been made from more correct information. Or it is possible, certainly, that the statement by Josephus is incorrect.

(2) if Luke were to be held responsible for the statement of the number, yet it remains to be shown that he is not as credible a historian as Josephus. Why should Josephus be esteemed infallible, and Luke false? Why should the accuracy of Luke be tested by Josephus, rather than the accuracy of Josephus by Luke? Infidels usually assume that profane historians are infallible, and then endeavor to convict the sacred writers of falsehood.

(3) the narrative of Luke is the more probable of the two. It is more probable that the number was only 4,000 than that it was 30,000 thousand; for Josephus says that 400 were killed and 200 were taken prisoners, and that thus they were dispersed. Now, it is scarcely credible that an army of 30,000 desperadoes and cut-throats would be dispersed by so small a slaughter and captivity. But if the number was originally only 4,000, it is entirely credible that the loss of 600 would discourage and dissipate the remainder.

(4) it is possible that the chief captain refers only to the organized Sicarii, or murderers that the Egyptian led with him, and Josephus to the multitude that afterward joined them the rabble of the discontented and disorderly that followed them on their march. Or,

(5) There may have been an error in transcribing Josephus. It has been supposed that he originally wrote four thousand, but that ancient copyists, mistaking the (Δ D) delta, four, for (Λ L) lambda, thirty, wrote 30,000 instead of 4,000. Which of these solutions is adopted is not material.

That were murderers - Greek: men of the Sicarii - τῶν σικαρίων tōn sikariōn. This is originally a Latin word, and is derived from sica, a short sword, sabre, or crooked knife, which could be easily concealed under the garment. Hence, it came to denote "assassins," and to be applied to "banditti, or robbers." It does not mean that they had actually committed murder, but that they were desperadoes and banditti, and were drawn together for purposes of plunder and of blood. This class of people was exceedingly numerous in Judea. See the notes on Luke 10:30.

38. madest an uproar, &c.—The narrative is given in Josephus [Wars of the Jews, 2.8.6; 13.5], though his two allusions and ours seem to refer to different periods of the rebellion. That Egyptian; a famous ringleader of a rebellious crew, as some think, in the reign of Tiberius; but as others, in the thirteenth year of the emperor Claudius, and continued till under Nero’s reign, and came, from these four thousand mentioned here at his first setting up, to have thirty thousand followers; pretending himself to be a prophet; of whom Josephus, Antiq. lib. 20. cap. 11.

Murderers, or assassins, that did wear daggers or stilettos. Art thou not that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar,.... Josephus speaks (i) of one that came out of Egypt to Jerusalem, and gave out that he was a prophet, and deceived the people, whom he persuaded to follow him to the Mount of Olives, where they should see the walls of the city fall at his command, and so through the ruins of it they might enter into the city; but Felix the Roman governor fell upon them, killed four hundred, and took two hundred prisoners, and the Egyptian fled: the account which he elsewhere (k) gives of him, and Eusebius (l) from him, is this; a certain Egyptian false prophet did much more mischief to the Jews; for he being a magician, and having got himself to be believed as a prophet, came into the country (of Judea), and gathered together about thirty thousand persons, whom he had deceived: these he brought out of the wilderness to the Mount of Olives, from thence designing to take Jerusalem by force, and seize the Roman garrison, and take the government of the people but Felix prevented his design, meeting him with the Roman soldiers, assisted by all the people; so that when they engaged, the Egyptian fled with a few, and most of those that were with him were destroyed or taken: now it was some little time before this, that this affair happened; and by these accounts of Josephus, though the Egyptian was discomfited, yet he was not taken; he had made his escape, so that he might be yet in being; and therefore the captain could not tell but Paul might be he, who had privately got into the city, and was upon some bad designs:

and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? Josephus says, that he brought them out of the wilderness, or led them through it to the Mount of Olives, from thence to rush into Jerusalem, when the walls should fall down at his command; but he says, the number of men that he led out were about thirty thousand; it may be at first there were no more than four thousand, but afterwards were joined by others, and increased to thirty thousand; or among these thirty thousand, he had four thousand "murderers, or sicarii": so called from the little swords which they carried under their clothes, and with them killed men in the daytime, in the middle of the city, especially at the feasts, when they mingled themselves with the people (m).

(i) Antiqu. l. 20. c. 7. sect. 6. (k) De Bello Jud. l. 2. c. 13. sect. 5. (l) Eccl. Hist. l. 2. c. 21. (m) Joseph. de Bello Jud. l. 2. c. 13. sect. 3.

Art not thou that {g} Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?

(g) Concerning this Egyptian who assembled thirty thousand men, read Josephus, book 2, chap. 12.

Acts 21:38. οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ: mirantis est, cf. Arist., Av., 280 (Blass). Vulgate, Eras, render Nonne tu es …? but emphasis on οὐκ “Thou art not then” (as I supposed). No doubt the false prophet to whom reference is made by Josephus. Whilst Felix was governor he gathered the people around him on the Mount of Olives to the number of 30,000, and foretold that at his word the walls of the city would fall. But Felix attacked him and the impostor fled although the majority (πλεῖστοι) of his followers were captured or slain, Jos., B.J., ii., 13, 5. In another account, Ant., xx., 8, 6, Josephus states that 400 were killed and 200 wounded, so that he evidently contradicts himself and his numbers are untrustworthy. For the various attempts to reconcile these different notices, cf. Krenkel, Josephus und Lukas, p. 243. But apart from this, there is no positive discrepancy with St. Luke. It is possible that the chiliarch as a soldier only reckoned those who were armed, whilst Josephus spoke of the whole crowd of followers. Evidently the Roman officer thought that the Egyptian had returned after his flight, and that he was now set upon by the people as an impostor (so also Schürer, Jewish People, div. i., vol. ii., p. 180, note, E.T.). There is no sign whatever that St. Luke was dependent upon Josephus, as Krenkel maintains, but it is of course quite possible that both writers followed a different tradition of the same event. But St. Luke differs from Josephus in his numbers, there is no connection in the Jewish historian, as in St. Luke, between the Egyptian and the Sicarii, and whilst Josephus mentions the Mount of Olives, St. Luke speaks of the wilderness; Belser, Theol. Quartalschrift, pp. 68, 69, Heft i., 1896, “Egyptian, The” (A. C. Headlam), Hastings’ B.D.—ἀναστ. καὶ ἐξαγ.: “stirred up to sedition and led out,” R.V., this rendering makes the first verb (used only in Luke and Paul) also active, as in other cases in N.T. where it occurs, Acts 18:6, Galatians 5:12. The verb is not known in classical writers, but cf. LXX, Daniel 7:23, and also in the O.T. fragments, Aquila and Symm., Psalm 10:1; Psalm 58:11, Isaiah 22:3 (Grimm-Thayer).—τοὺς: “the 4000,” R.V., as of some well-known number.—τῶν σικαρίων: “of the Assassins,” R.V. The word sicarius is the common designation of a number, A.V., cf., e.g., the law passed under Sulla against murderers, “Lex Cornelia de Sicariis et Veneficis”; so in the Mishna in this general sense, but here it is used of the Sicarii or fanatical Jewish faction (and we note that the writer is evidently aware of their existence as a political party) which arose in Judæa after Felix had rid the country of the robbers of whom Josephus speaks, Ant., xx., 8, 5, B.J., ii., 13, 2, so called from the short daggers, sicæ, which they wore under their clothes. They mingled with the crowds at the Festivals, stabbed their political opponents unobserved, and drew suspicion from themselves by apparent indignation at such crimes, “Assassin” (A. C. Headlam), Hastings’ B.D., Schürer, Jewish People, div. i., vol. ii., p. 178, E.T.38. Art not thou that Egyptian] Better (as Rev. Ver.), “Art thou not then the Egyptian?” Thus we see more clearly the reason of the previous question which the chief captain had asked. The Egyptian to whom allusion is here made was a sufficiently formidable character, if we only reckon his followers at four thousand desperadoes. Josephus (Ant. xx. 8. 6; Bell. J. ii. 13. 5) tells how he was one of many impostors of the time, and when Felix was governor came to Jerusalem, gave himself out as a prophet, gathered the people to the Mount of Olives in number about 30,000, telling them that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and they could then march into the city. Felix with the Roman soldiers went out against him. The impostor and a part of his adherents fled, but a very large number were killed and others taken prisoners. The narrative of Josephus does not accord with the account of St Luke, but if the former be correct, we may well suppose that the numbers and the occasion spoken of by the chief captain relate to an event anterior to that great gathering on the Mount of Olives. The fame of the impostor may have grown; indeed, must have done so before he could collect the number of adherents of which Josephus speaks.

which before these days modest an uproar] The verb, which is found besides in Acts 17:6; Galatians 5:12, is active and requires an object. Read “stirred up to sedition” (as Rev. Ver.), and make this verb, like the one which follows, relate to the incitement of the four thousand.

and … murderers] Read (with R. V.) “and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the assassins.” The Gk. name is Sicarii (i.e. men armed with a dagger), and Josephus (B. J. ii. 13. 3), in an account of the lawless bands which infested Judæa in these times, says (after relating how a notorious robber named Eleazar had been taken with his followers and sent in chains to Rome), “But when the country was thus cleared there sprang up another kind of plunderers in Jerusalem called Sicarii. They kill men by daylight in the midst of the city. Particularly at the feasts they mix with the crowd, carrying small daggers hid under their clothes. With these they wound their adversaries, and when they have fallen the murderers mix with the crowd and join in the outcry against the crime. Thus they passed unsuspected for a long time. One of their earliest victims was Jonathan the high priest.”Acts 21:38. Οὐκ ἄρα; art thou not?) The captain (tribune) of the soldiers drew his inference thus: Paul speaks Greek; therefore he is the Egyptian. [All along from the times of Alexander the Great, the Greek tongue flourished in Egypt.—V. g.]Verse 38. - Art thou not then the for art not thou that, A.V.; stirred up to sedition for madest an uproar, A.V.; led for leddest, A.V.; the four thousand men of the Assassins for four thousand men that were murderers, A.V. Art thou not then, etc.? or as Meyer, "Thou art not then;" either way implying that Lysias had concluded that he was the Egyptian, but had now discovered his mistake. The Egyptian, etc. He whom Josephus calls (' Bell. Jud.,' it. 13:5) "the Egyptian false prophet," and relates that, having collected above thirty thousand followers, he advanced from the desert to the Mount of Olives, intending to overpower the Roman garrison and make himself tyrant of Jerusalem, with the help of his δορυφόροι, or body-guard, who might very probably be composed of the Assassins or Sicarii, mentioned in the text. Stirred up to sedition (ἀναστατώσας) The difference between the A.V. and the R.V. is that the former takes the verb in an intransitive sense, "to make an Uproar," the latter in a transitive sense, governing the "four thousand men." In the only two other places were it occurs in the New Testament (Acts 17:6; Galatians 5:12) it is transitive. It is not a classical word. The four thousand men. Josephus, in the above-cited passage, reckons the followers of the Egyptian impostor at above thirty thousand. But such discrepancies are of no account, partly because of the known looseness with which numbers are stated, and Josephus's disposition to exaggerate; partly because of the real fluctuation in the numbers of insurgents at different periods of an insurrection; and partly because it is very possible that a soldier like Lysias would take no count of the mere rabble, but only of the disciplined and armed soldiers such as these Sicarii were. It may be added that Josephus himself seems to distinguish between the rabble and the fighting men, because, though in the 'Bell. Jud.,' it. 13:5 he says that Felix attacked or took prisoners "most of his followers," in the 'Ant. Jud.,' 20. 8:6 he makes the number of slain "four hundred," and of prisoners "two hundred" - a very small proportion of thirty thousand. The Egyptian had premised his deluded followers that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down like those of Jericho. It is not known exactly in what year the insurrection took place, but it was, as Renan says, "pen de temps auparavant" ('St. Paul,' p. 525). The Egyptian himself contrived to run away and disappear; hence the thought that he was the author of this new tumult at Jerusalem. The Sicarii were a band of fanatical murderers, who, in the disturbed times preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, went about armed with daggers, and in broad daylight and in the public thoroughfares murdered whoever was obnoxious to them. Among others they murdered the high priest Jonathan at the instigation of Felix (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 20. 6:7; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2, 13:3). Art thou not (οὐκ ἄρα οὺ εἶ)

Indicating the officer's surprised recognition of his own mistake. "Thou art not, then, as I supposed." Rev. properly adds then (ἄρα).

The Egyptian

A false prophet, who, in the reign of Nero, when Felix was governor of Judaea, collected a multitude of thirty thousand, whom he led from the wilderness to the Mount of Olives, saying that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down at his command and give them free entrance to the city. Felix with an army dispersed the multitude, and the Egyptian himself escaped. There is a discrepancy in the number of followers as stated by Josephus (80,000) and as stated by the commandant here (4,000). It is quite possible, however, that Josephus alludes to the whole rabble, while Lysias is referring only to the armed followers.

Madest an uproar

Better, as Rev., stirred up to sedition. The rendering of the A. V. is too vague. The verb means to unsettle or upset, and the true idea is given in the A. V. of Acts 17:6, have turned the world upside down. Compare Galatians 5:12, and kindred words in Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.

That were murderers (τῶν σικαρίων)

The A. V. is too general, and overlooks the force of the article, which shows that the word refers to a class. Rev., rightly, the assassins. The word, which occurs only here, and notably on the lips of a Roman officer, is one of those Latin words which "followed the Roman domination even into those Eastern provinces of the empire which, unlike those of the West, had refused to be Latinized, but still retained their own language" (Trench, "Synonyms"). The Sicarii were so called from the weapon which they used - the sica, or short, curved dagger. Josephus says: "There sprang up in Jerusalem another description of robbers called Sikars, who, under the broad light of day, and in the very heart of the city, assassinated men; chiefly at the festivals, however, when, mixing among the crowd, with daggers concealed under their cloaks, they stabbed those with whom they were at variance. When they fell, the murderers joined in the general expressions of indignation, and by this plausible proceeding remained undetected" ("Jewish War," c. xiii.). The general New Testament term for murderer is φονεύς (see Matthew 22:7; Acts 3:14; Acts 28:4, etc.).

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