The Sicarii In Acts: A New Perspective -- By: Mark A. Brighton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:3 (Sep 2011)
Article: The Sicarii In Acts: A New Perspective
Author: Mark A. Brighton

The Sicarii In Acts: A New Perspective

Mark A. Brighton*

* Mark Brighton is professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at Concordia University, 1530 Concordia West, Irvine, CA 92614.

I. Introduction To The Topic

If we desire to understand the NT, we must learn all that we can about the world in which Jesus, the disciples, and the earliest Christians lived. The reason why is easily understood but often overlooked: the biblical authors did not write to a modern western world but rather to those who lived in first- century imperial Rome. We, therefore, simply cannot read any NT passage and then ask directly, “What does this mean to us?” because that question cannot be answered until we have determined, as far as possible, what the text meant to the original readers. So those who would bring God’s word to bear on 21st-century lives have no choice but to learn the ancient Greek language, rhetoric, culture, and history, for these comprise the world of the NT authors.

These same principles, which apply generally to all ancient literature, apply also to Flavius Josephus. There is no other single author as important for our understanding of first-century Judea, yet we cannot read any particular passage in his writings and then ask directly, “What does this tell us about the New Testament?” The works of Josephus must first be studied for their own merits before they can be used reliably to enhance our understanding of late Second Temple Judaism in general or the NT in particular. Doing so often leads to a readjustment of our understanding. This can be illustrated well by the topic and passage at hand. In Acts 21 we read that when Paul was placed under arrest at Jerusalem at the close of his third missionary journey, the tribune expressed surprise that Paul knew Greek and then assumed that Paul was a certain Egyptian who had led a band of Sicarii out into the wilderness. This word, variously translated as “assassins” (ESV) or “terrorists” (NIV) or “murderers” (KJV), is exceedingly rare in ancient Greek literature. In the NT it is found only here, and apart from this passage the first Greek author to use it is Josephus. In this article I intend to address briefly how Josephus adds to our understanding of the NT primarily by looking at this particular text. My aim is to introduce the scholarly discussion about the usefulness of Josephus as a historical source, and then bring Josephus and Luke into dialog on this verse, and from this then see what we discover about Luke, Josephus, the Sicarii, and what Luke would have us understand about Paul.

II. Josephus As A Source For New Testament History

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