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The bearing of recent discovery on the trustworthiness of the New Testament online

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add a few words on this point The leading teachers of
two out of the four great philosophical schools "brought
Paul before the Areopagus," i.e. the Council of Areopagus,
and set him in the midst of the Council These words are
commonly interpreted " brought him to the hill called
Areopagus, and set him in the middle of the hill ". Which
is right ? It is not intended here to discuss this matter as
a whole ; it has been treated in " St. Paul the Traveller " ;
but merely to add a fuller discussion than is there given of
one point, viz. the meaning of the term Areopagus. This
discussion is intended to illustrate the importance of notic-
ing dialect and even colloquialism in studying the Acts and
the narrative of Paul's journeys.

A familiar example in English usage will illustrate and

1 Statins, •• Silvac," in. 5, 93 t ""Apfiof wiCyoj.

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in the Acts. 103

explain the importance of this point We commonly use
the term " the House," when we are speaking of Parliament
' This is a colloquialism, which has become' almost admissible
in literature. In Oxford familiar usage "the House"
means Christ Church. To some " the House " is the
Stock Exchange, to others the pooriiouse. One can tell a
great deal about the experiences of a stranger by noticing
his use of technical terms peculiar to certain places. In
the Athenian scene Luke uses Attic terms with perfect
naturalness and correctness.

It shows how carelessly statements are made in denial of
the new and reasonable interpretation of Acts that even
Blass, a scholar who in respect of Attic usage is usually
most accurate, denied that the term Areopagus could by
any possibility be used in the sense of the Council ; and as-
serted that it is used only to mean the actual hill.^ The
denial is unjustifiable and incorrect There are at least two
cases in which the word Areopagus ("Apeiof; wdryosi) desig-
nates the Council, and cannot possibly mean the hill : these
are an inscription of Epidaurus,* and Cicero Att, I. 14, 5.

The latter case shows the character of this usage : it is
colloquial Attic : Cicero heard it in Athens when he resided
there, and he used it in familiar speech and letters. The
man who employed the word in this way knew the current
way of talking in Athens. In ordinary conversation the
formal expression " The Council of the Areopagus " * was
cumbrous ; a vivacious people like the Athenians would not
spend so much time on a name ; and in ordinary conversa-

1 In his Commentary, p. 190, stating reasons against this interpretation,
be concludes : quod maximum, non dicitur "Apttos itJayos nisi de loco*

' Cawadias " Pooilles d*Epidauro8,*' i., p. 68, No. 206.

*iliv *Ap9lm «t(yy (or i^ *Ap€lov Tdryov) fiovK^ : rh 4v (or 4Q A. v. diKturr^pioy
Off ffvwUpMv*

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I04 VII . Trial Scenes

tion they shortened the designation to the simple form " the
Areopagus ".

Cicero, a stylist and a purist in language, would use no *
vulgar term. He is a perfect witness that " Areopagus " in
educated Athenian conversation was used to mean the
Council in the first century B.C. The other example be-
longs to the period A.D. 50-100. This usage was heard in
Athens by Paul and his friends. The whole account is ex-
pressed by Luke in the tone and style of language in which
the action was transacted. That is a fair specimen of the
marvellous lifelike and truthful character of the book in even
such small details. This scene is bathed in the light of
Attic suns.

The preceding two examples were quoted in my first dis-
cussion of the subject.^ I think that there are others,
though the Lexicon of Pape-Benseler goes too far when
it says that " Areios pagos designates sometimes the hill,
but mostly the judgment-hall or the Council itself". Many
of the examples which it quotes for the latter sense might
be explained as cases of synecdoche, the hill being used for
the Council that met originally on the hill. Some of the ex-
amples, however, would perhaps pass muster ; and, obviously,
such a %ure of the formal literary speech would naturally
and inevitably pass into the colloquial usage, as described ;
but we may leave it to students of the Attic dialect to in-
quire more nicely.

The two examples quoted already are sufficient proof of
Attic colloquial usage ; and to them may be added Seneca,
who in ** de Tranq.,** v., speaks of Athens as " the state in
which was Areos pagos, a most revered judgment-council *'.
Though Seneca is writing Latin, he quotes the Greek word,

1 " St. Paul the Traveller," p. 261.

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in the Acts. 105

spelling it in Latin letters,^ so that he is a witness for the
Greek usage, contemporary with Paul. Valerius Maximus
speaks in pure Latin of " that most holy Council the Areo-
pagus " ; • it might indeed be argued that what is true of a
Latin term may not be true of the corresponding Greek
term in Greek usage ; but it seems probable that Valerius
would not have used Areopagus thus, if the Greek term was
incapable of bearing the same sense.' He also is of the
first century after Christ

These examples prove the Attic usage as belonging to
the educated colloquial speech of the Pauline period. We
hear with Paul's ears and see with his eyes in Athens, just
as we do at Lystra (see chapter III.).

^ In qua civitaU erat Arsos pagos, religiosissimum iudicium. The Latin
tenn is Areopagus, bat the single word is practically never used in Greek.

' " Val. Max.,** ii. 64, sancHsHmum consiUum Areopagus.

* None of the four examples are quoted by Pape-Benseler, though they are
so strong on their side. The last two are in Wetstein's Commentary.

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A MARKED and interesting fact in the society of that period
was the influence of magicians and soothsayers. They were
extraordinarily numerous. It may be confidently said that
in the Graeco-Roman world there were few cities, if any,
even of moderate size that did not possess several of them.
They were to be found everywhere, for they catered to the
taste of a large portion of ordinary pagan society.

Very few in that age were wholly superior to the belief in
magical power, and not many could refrain throughout their
life from recourse at some time and in some crisis or trouble
to the help offered through magical arts. It is true that
many, including all the more educated and thoughtful and
respectable part of pagan society, believed that sorcerers
were dangerous, disreputable and maleficent ; they warned
young people against having any intercourse with them ; *
but the reasons which actuated the wiser and more religious
or philosophical section of society, and caused this anti-
pathy, betray a general belief in the powers which the
sorcerers could exert People disliked the practisers of
magical arts, not because they were mere impostors whose
claims were false, but because they really possessed powers
which they misused for evil purposes. They were hated,

1 An example of this can be found in the early part of the Pseudo-Lncian's
" Onos,** where the reckless young num is portrayed as eager to see some
examples of magical powers, and as warned vainly by a good friend.


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VIIL Magicians in the Acts of the Apostles. 107

because they were feared. Such incredulity as Lucian pro-
fessesy such frank and sweeping ridicule of magicians as
mere quacks, was rare ; and in truth, while Lucian describes
individual impostors as mere cheats, he does not express
disbelief universally in the real existence of such powers.

The current conception of magical powers was that they
were means of interfering with the order of nature, non-
religious and illicit ; and people resorted to magicians
mainly in the hope of procuring what they could not obtain,
or were unwilling to seek for, through prayers and acts of
religious character. Religion could work wonders ; magic
could work wonders ; the marvels wrought by magic, how-
ever, were unnatural and involved a secret and illicit tam-
pering with the proper and moral government of the
universe. Magic loved secrecy and darkness ; religion was
open and fair.

The ancient art of magic has been much studied in
recent times, and forms the subject of a large number of
treatises. The discovery of new documents has been less
important . than the fresh study of those which had long
been known, chief among which was a most important
manuscript in Paris, full of magical records. The discovery
of the new documents — some of these being in themselves
of a very foolish character, mere charms and spells intended
to avert evil expressed in a meaningless jargon, or senseless
repetition of formulae, for puerility is a general character-
istic of the magical writings — directed attention to the old,
as the new had to be published and the old had to be
studied to throw light on them.^

1 The Bibliography is very fully given by M. H. Hubert in Daremberg and
Saglio, " Diet, det Antiq. Grec. et Rom.,** under ** Magia,*' ni. 1495 ff. ;
more recent literature in Professor H. A. A. Kennedy's " St. Paul and
the Mystery Religions '*.

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io8 VIIL The Magicians in

Moreover, the deeper and more intelligent study of
ancient religion has incidentally led to the study of ancient
superstition and magic as throwing light on religion.
Pagan religion and superstition are allied, and the transition
from one to the other is easy; witness the difficulty in
determining whether Deisidaimonia and the cognate adjec-
tive in Acts XVII. 22 are to be understood in a good sense
as religion or in a bad sense as superstition : ^ witness also
the teaching of many, stated most pointedly to us by
Lucretius, that there was no distinction between the two,
that religion was the cause of infinite evils, that it
dominated and distorted the minds of men, tormenting
them always with unreal terrors and leading them in their
fears to seek to save themselves by hideous crimes and even
by sacrificing their own children. All men were praying or
wishing for Salvation ; they tried to win it through religion,
and they tried to gain it by magical arts and superstitious
practices * (see chapter XIIL).

Magicians could make the moon come down from heaven,
raise the dead, make animals and stones speak, change men
into animals and animals back again into men, and do other
marvellous things.* These things proved the magicians'

1 I do not doubt that Paul had the good sense uppermost in his mind ; but
the bad is always close at hand; and many educated hearers in ancient
times, especially the Epicureans who were prominent among Paul's Athenian
opponents, had the double sense always before them and in truth consistently
held that all religion was superstition. See "The Teaching of Paul in
Terms of the Present Day,** p. 379 f., and above in Chapter vii.

* On the nature of their conception of ** Salvation,** and on its relation to
the Christian conception expressed by the same word, the present writer has
written in ** The Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day,** pp. zo,
94 f., etc. : also in Chapter xi. of the present book.

* This paragraph is only a statement in brief of the description given by
Monsieur H. Hubert in Daremberg and Saglio*s **Dict. des Antiq.** 8.v.
*' Magia,** iii. p. 1895. See also E. Le Blant on Artemidorus in ** M^moires
de TAcad.,** xxxvi. pt il ; and Cumont, ** Astron. and Religion,** Index.

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the Acts of the Apostles. 109

power ; but the populace resorted to them mainly for help
in the difficulties and troubles of life. Lovers sought charms
and means of enslaving the minds or possessing the person
of the objects of their affection. People in general sought
protection against thieves, or recovery of lost property, or
rain in drought, or calm weather at sea, or the prevention
of hail-storms dangerous to the corps, or the cure of diseases,
or prosperity and fertility in farming and in business gener-
ally, or any of the thousand things that men desire ; and
where they shrank from praying the gods for these ob-
jects, if illicit and likely to be refused by the divine power,
or where they had prayed and prayed in vain in the way of
religion, they tried to obtain them by magical arts. Especi-
ally where people desired to injure or hurt those whom
they disliked, they could not hope that the gods would aid
them, and they had recourse to magic.

Magic was in close relation to astrology, though the two*
domains must be distinguished. Strictly speaking, magic
aims at modifying the course of events, which astrology
predicts ; but the modification is effected by knowing and
misusing the forces and powers through which the motions
of the heavenly bodies affect the life and fortunes of indi-

Similarly, magic rules a realm distinct from alchemy.
The magicians made use, or tried to make use, of the pro-
cesses taught through alchemy and discovered by alchemists.
Yet, inasmuch as the methods and aims of the latter were
commonly wild and unscientific and their processes were
expressed in forms that partook of the secrecy and mystery
of magic, the relation between the two was close.^

Again, divination in all its forms, the art of prophecy, the

^See the extracts from Zosimos in Notes to Reitzenstein's **Die hel>
lenistischen Mytterienreligionen '*.

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no VIIL The Magicians in

interpretation of dreams, necromancy, etc, are more or less
closely > allied to magic. Necromancy especially must be
directly classed as a branch of magic.

Yet divination and prophecy, in their origin, are both
religious, and their magical employment comes through the
deterioration of religion.

There was a widespread and deep-seated feeling in the
pagan mind, that the divine power was always ready and
even desirous to communicate its will to men, and that the
signs which reveal the divine intention either are cleariy
visible around mankind, if men have only the will and the
skill required to read the signs (divination), or are revealed
to the mind and soul of men (prophecy).

Intimations of the divine will were conveyed especially
through phenomena occurring in the atmosphere or in the
heavens, such as the flight of birds, thunder and lightning,
etc., and through the appearance (external and internal) and
behaviour of the victims offered by men in sacrifice. The
art of reading all those signs was the pseudo^science of
divination, which was very liable to be tortured into forms
nearly allied to magic, because that element of " the secret,
the incomprehensible, the marvellous, and the absurd or
unnatural," which is essential to and characteristic of magic,^
is rarely wanting in any of the forms of the elaborated

Prophecy was of a higher order, and spoke more to the
reason and the spiritual nature of mankind ; but even
prophecy tended to be stereotyped in certain forms, and to
be localized at certain places called oracles or prophetic
centres, and thus to become almost professional and pseudo-
scientific, being subjected to the caprice and ultimately to

^ Hubert, loc. cit., p. 1495 A.

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the Acts of the Apostles. 1 1 1

the cupidity of men : where a fee or reward was at stake,
the answer must be given, whether or not the prophet was
ready to speak. In this way it came to be often harnessed
under the yoke of magic

It would be an error to regard those magicians as mere
pretenders and impostors. They varied, of course, very
greatly as r^ards character, intellectual power, and the
d^ree of knowledge that they possessed. A satirist like
Lucian may have been ready to look on them all as
impostors making money out of their dupes by trickery
and sham ; but that simple formula is insufficient to explain
the almost universal belief in, and influence of, those persons.

In the first place, some of them had a certain knowledge
of the powers and processes of nature : these were the
" scientists " of their time. Such knowledge of natural and
physical science as existed at that time they possessed. In
a similar way the alchemists of the mediaeval world were
the founders of modern chemistry. Until within the last
few years the problems which the alchemists proposed to
themselves for solution (such as the transmutation of metals)
were considered by modern chemists to be impossible and
delusive ; but the transmutation at which they laboured and
experimented, has been brought back within the purview
of modem chemistry, as some of the most distinguished
scientific investigators hold. In an American city in 191 3
I received a letter from an eminent chemist, who confused
me with my more distinguished namesake the Professor of
Chemistry in London University : he reminded me of a
former visit which I had paid to his laboratory, and invited
me to come again to see how much progress he had made
in the problem of transmutation since I had last visited him.

Those men practised research with a view to acquiring
power and wealth; but we need not deny that some of

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1 1 2 VIIL The Magicians in

them may have become interested in the pursuit of know-
ledge, and that this nobler aim may have come to play some
part in their lives and interesta Science has raised itself
gradually from • humble b^innings, humble morally as well
as in other ways. Some magicians were, after all, one genus
of the "wandering scholar," seeking for a career and a
livelihood in the line that they had chosen, and yet liable
to become so enamoured of the knowledge which they had
at first r^arded as a means that they ended by looking on
it as an end in itself. Such is a common fact of life.

We should never blind ourselves to this possible side of
the ancient magician's character, though we must acknow-
ledge that the influence of scientific study on the nobler
side of human nature grows stronger as knowledge increases
and as the acquisition of it absorbs more completely the
faculties of the mind. The love of knowledge has become
a far stronger motive as the range of knowledge has
widened ; but it was not absolutely wanting in that time,
unscientific and superficial as the age was.^

In the second place, some (perhaps many) of those
magicians in the first century seem to have been the pos-
sessors in some degree of that knowledge which has been
traditional in the East from remote ages, regarding certain
mysterious and obscure powers and processes of the nature
of mesmerism, psychic influence, thought-reading, and so
on. The character and limits of this domain are too obscure
to be more than alluded to ; but probably it is not possible
to understand the position and influence of such persons as
Simon of Samaria and Elymas Barjesus without assuming
that they had some knowledge in this realm as well as in
the one described in the immediately preceding paragraph.

1 ** Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day," pp. 242 ff.

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the Acts of the Apostles. 113

Probably Simon was more powerful in this occult domain,
while Barjesus had more of the character of a student of
the powers and processes of nature, in which aspect he was
an object of interest to the judicious and philosophic Roman
governor of Cyprus.

Yet, in the third place, after all is said that can be said in
explanation of the many-sidedness and the possible virtues
of the magicians in the Graeco-Roman cities, the fact remains
that they were a noxious growth, condemned by the edu-
cated part of society as evil in action and intention, making
a living out of the worst tendencies in human nature, its
greed and its fears and its malevolence. They had to live
on the credulity of others; they were fighting for life,
and did curious things. In this position they had to be
always ready, and it was necessary to dupe their devotees
by the practice of tricks and mere imposture.

The use of magic rites in the casting out of devils is an
important side of this subject, which will come more suit-
ably in the following chapter.

It is needless to enumerate any more of the manifold
species of arts and practices that come under the general
title of Magic ; enough has been said to show its very varied
character, and the many diverse types of individual practi-
tioners who would be found among this general class, so
widely spread in the Gra&co-Roman world as we see it por-
trayed in the Acts. There is no class of opponents with
whom the earliest Christian Apostles and missionaries are
brought into collision so frequently, and whose opposition
is described as being so obstinate and determined, as the
magicians. They play a very considerable part in the book
of the Acts. At Samaria, at Paphos, at Philippi, and re-
peatedly at Ephesus, wizards of various kinds meet and are
overcome by Peter and Paul. Their diversity is endless. No


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114 VIIL The Magi^cians in

one is of the same type as another. They show the infinite
variety of nature and truth.

Those scenes of conflict are picturesque; they throw
much light on the character of society in the cities ; but
Luke does not describe them so often and at such length
merely because they were picturesque, or because they
illustrated the character of contemporary society. It is
not on such grounds that he apportions the space in his
highly compressed history.

The magicians possessed certain powers ; but the
Apostles are exhibited as always possessing &r greater.
Luke was not averse from recording such instances of the
great power which true faith and inspiration conferred;
but it would be an error to suppose that this consideration
alone furnishes suflicient explanation of the attention and
space allotted to encounters with magicians in the Acts.
That motive, taken alone, is beneath the level of this his*
torian, who moves and writes on a higher plane.

These incidents, numerous as they are, find a proper
place in Luke's history, because he is refuting an accusation
that was commonly brought against the Christians. Like
the magicians, so the Christians also were stigmatized by
the populace as maleficent, malevolent, and haters of the
human race. The violent antipathy which the mob
cherished towards the adherents of the new religion was
justified to the world on the pretext that these Christians
were like magicians, practising secret rites, unlawful arts,
and abominable hidden crimes. Lucian describes the im-
postor and quack Pereg^nus (who was of the genus, though
almost too silly and pretentious for a proper magician) as
having been in close relation with the Christians and actually
one of their company for a time ; but the satirist, true to his
purpose of portraying Peregrinus as untrue in everything,

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the Acts of the Apostles. 115

makes him out to be even a false Christian and a false

The supposed letter of the Emperor Hadrian to Julius
Servianus (Consul III, A.D. 134) is a good witness attesting
the popular belief that the Christians dealt in magical arts :
^' there is no presbj^er of the Christians that is not an
astrologer, a diviner, and a professional carer for people's
physical condition ".^ Though the letter is fictitious, it none
the less shows what was the popular belief about the Chris-
tians, and it is quoted by Vopiscus as a proof of his state-
ment to that effect

Luke makes no direct answer to this or any other charge
against the Christiana He merely exhibits in history the
Christians as inevitably in conflict with all magicians and as
invariably superior in power to them. The magicians are
set over against the truth of Christianity, as having neither
part nor lot in the faith, as causing evil and bitterness all
around them, as children of the devil, enemies of all right-
eousness, distorters of the truth, and also as feeble impostors
who shrivel 'into nothing in the light of the sun and the
pure reality of life. Such are the actual words that the
persons in the narrative use, and the facts that the historian

For this purpose it is necessary to show the Apostles
frequently in contact and contrast with the magicians and
wizards and soothsayers and exorcists and practisers of

^Nsmo ChristwHorum presbyter non maihematicus, nan haruspex^ ncm
KdipUs, Ddsemann prefers to raider alipUs *< quacksalver,'* " Bible Studies,"
p. 336 (<* Bibelstndien," p. i8 f.) ; but I think that the original and proper
^ense of the word was not wholly lost here (compare what is said in the fol-
lowing chapter on the interest shown by Christian missionaries in the physical

Online LibraryWilliam Mitchell RamsayThe bearing of recent discovery on the trustworthiness of the New Testament → online text (page 9 of 33)