on Acts 21 :38
Art not thou that Egyptian, etc. - The history to which Claudius Lysias refers is taken from Josephus, Ant. lib. xx. cap. 7, sec. 6, and War, lib. ii. cap. 13, sec. 5, and is in substance as follows: An Egyptian, whose name is not known, pretended to be a prophet, and told his followers that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down before them, if they would assist him in making an attack on the city. He had address enough to raise a rabble of 30,000 men, and with these advanced as far as the Mount of Olives; but Felix, the Roman governor, came suddenly upon him, with a large body of Roman troops, both infantry and cavalry: the mob was speedily dispersed, four hundred killed, two hundred taken prisoners, and the Egyptian himself, with some of his most faithful friends, escaped; of whom no account was ever afterwards heard. As Lysias found such an outcry made against Paul, he supposed that he must be some egregious malefactor, and probably that Egyptian who had escaped, as related above. Learned men agree that St. Luke refers to the same fact of which Josephus speaks; but there is a considerable difference between the numbers in Josephus, and those in Luke: the former having 30,000, the latter only 4000. The small number of killed and prisoners, only 600 in all, according to Josephus, leads us to suspect that his number is greatly exaggerated; as 600 in killed and prisoners of a mob of 30,000, routed by regular infantry and cavalry, is no kind of proportion; but it is a sufficient proportion to a mob of 4000. Dean Aldridge has supposed that the number in Josephus was originally 4000, but that ancient copyists mistaking the Greek Δ delta, four, for Λ lambda, thirty, wrote 30,000, instead of 4000. See Havercamp's edition, vol. ii. p. 177. There is another way of reconciling the two historians, which is this: When this Egyptian impostor at first began to make great boasts and large promises, a multitude of people, to the amount at least of 30,000, weary of the Roman yoke, from which he promised them deliverance, readily arranged themselves under his banners. As he performed nothing that he promised, 26,000 of these had melted away before he reached Mount Olivet: this remnant the Romans attacked and dispersed. Josephus speaks of the number he had in the beginning; St. Luke, of those that he had when he arrived at Mount Olivet.
That were murderers? - Σικαριων: Sicarii, assassins: they derived their name from sica, a sort of crooked knife, which they concealed under their garments, and privately stabbed the objects of their malice. Josephus.
on Acts 21 :38
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.
on Acts 21 :38
21:38 Art not thou that Egyptian - Who came into Judea when Felix had been some years governor there! Calling himself a prophet, he drew much people after him; and having brought them through the wilderness, led them to Mount Olivet, promising that the walls of the city should fall down before them. But Felix marching out of Jerusalem against him, his followers quickly dispersed, many of whom were taken or slain; but he himself made his escape.