on Acts 19 :19
Which used curious arts - Τα περιεργα. From the use of this word in the Greek writers, we know that it signified magical arts, sorceries, incantations, etc. Ephesus abounded with these. Dio Cassius, speaking of the Emperor Adrian, says, Ὁ Αδριανος περιεργοτατος ην και μαντειαις και μαγγανειαις παντοδαπαις εχρητο. "Adrian was exceedingly addicted to curious arts, and practised divination and magic." These practices prevailed in all nations of the earth.
Brought their books together - The Εφεσια γραμματα, or Ephesian characters, are celebrated in antiquity; they appear to have been amulets, inscribed with strange characters, which were carried about the body for the purpose of curing diseases, expelling demons, and preserving from evils of different kinds. The books brought together on this occasion were such as taught the science, manner of formation, use, etc., of these charms.
Suidas, under Εφεσια γραμματα, Ephesian letters, gives us the following account. "Certain obscure incantations. - When Milesius and Ephesius wrestled at the Olympic games, Milesius could not prevail, because his antagonist had the Ephesian letters bound to his heels; when this was discovered, and the letters taken away, it is reported that Milesius threw him thirty times."
The information given by Hesychius is still more curious: Εφεσια γραμματα. ην μεν παλαι Ϛ'· ὑϚερον δε προσεθεσαν τινες απατεωνες και αλλα· φασι δε των πρωτων τα ονοματα, ταδε ΑΣΚΙΟΝ, ΚΑΤΑΣΚΙΟΝ, ΛΙΞ, ΤΕΤΡΑΞ, ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, ΑΙΣΙΟΝ· Δηλοι δε, το μεν Ασκιον, σκοτος· το δε Κατα σκιον, φως· το δε Λιξ, γη· τετραξ δε, ενιαυτος· Δαμναμενευς δε, ἡλιος· Αισιον δε, αληθες. Ταυτα ουν ἱερα εϚι και ἁγια. "The Ephesian letters or characters were formerly six, but certain deceivers added others afterwards; and their names, according to report, were these: Askion, Kataskion, Lix, Tetrax, Damnameneus, and Aislon. It is evident that Askion signifies Darkness; Kataskion, Light; Lix, the Earth; Tetrax, the Year; Damnameneus, the Sun; and Aision, Truth. These are holy and sacred things." The same account may be seen in Clemens Alexandrinus; Strom. lib. v. cap. 8, where he attempts to give the etymology of these different terms. These words served, no doubt, as the keys to different spells and incantations; and were used in order to the attainment of a great variety of ends. The Abraxas of the Basilidians, in the second century, were formed on the basis of the Ephesian letters; for those instruments of incantation, several of which are now before me, are inscribed with a number of words and characters equally as unintelligible as the above, and in many cases more so.
When it is said they brought their books together, we are to understand the books which treated of these curious arts; such as the Εφεσια γραμματα, or Ephesian characters.
And burned them before all - These must have been thoroughly convinced of the truth of Christianity, and of the unlawfulness of their own arts.
Fifty thousand pieces of silver - Some think that the αργυριον, which we translate piece of silver, means a shekel, as that word is used Matthew 26:16, where see the note; 50,000 shekels, at 3s., according to Dean Prideaux's valuation, (which is that followed throughout this work), would amount to 7,500.
But, as this was a Roman and not a Jewish country, we may rationally suppose that the Jewish coin was not here current; and that the αργυριον, or silver coin, mentioned by St. Luke, must have been either Greek or Roman; and, it is very likely that the sestertius is meant, which was always a silver coin, about the value, according to Arbuthnot, of two-pence, or 1d. 3q3/4., which answers to the fourth part of a denarius, rated by the same author at 7 3/4d. Allowing this to be the coin intended, the 50,000 sestertii would amount to 403. 12s. 11d.
The Vulgate reads, denariorum quinquaginta millium, fifty thousand denarii, which, at 7 3/4 d., will amount to 1,614. 11s. 8d. The reading of the Itala version of the Codex Bezae is very singular, Denariorum sestertia ducenta. "Two hundred sesterces of denarii;" which may signify no more than "two hundred sestertii of Roman money:" for in this sense denarius is certainly used by Cicero, Orat. pro Quint.; where ad denarium solvere, means to pay in Roman money, an expression similar to our word sterling. This sum would amount to no more than 1. 12s. 3 1/2d. But that which is computed from the sestertius is the most probable amount.
on Acts 19 :19
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.
on Acts 19 :19
19:19 Curious arts - Magical arts, to which that soft appellation was given by those who practised them. Ephesus was peculiarly famous for these. And as these practices were of so much reputation there, it is no wonder the books which taught them should bear a great price. Bringing their books together - As it were by common consent, burnt them - Which was far better than selling them, even though the money had been given to the poor. Fifty thousand pieces of silver - If these pieces of silver be taken for Jewish shekels, the sum will amount to six thousand two hundred and fifty pounds.