Posted by: mattcolvin | June 29, 2007

Acts 8 and 9

(Reposted from Fragmenta)

8:29 – Philip runs up to the chariot of the eunuch, reminnding me strongly of Elijah outrunning Ahab’s chariot. The entire passage is, by the way, suffused with echoes of the Elijah story. Later, in 39, the Spirit snatches up (ἥρπασεν) Philip and whooshes him away to Azotos, echoing Obadiah’s words in 1 Kings 18:12: “the Spirit of YHWH will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me.” At Elijah’s ascension, the sons of the prophets proposed making a search for him, since he might have been whooshed away to some mountain (2 Ki. 2:16). (See also Bel and the Dragon vs. 33.)

8:32 and 35 – I have often wondered why Luke echoes his own quotation of Isaiah 53 when describing Philip’s answer to the eunuch. The passage in question says that “he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is voiceless, so he does not open his mouth (οὐκ ἀνοίγει τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ).” When asked about whom Isaiah is talking, “himself or someone else?”, Philip, opening his mouth (ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ), proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to him. Pretty much verbatim, but with what significance, I don’t know.

For that matter, my daughter Talia raised what seems to me a very good question: why should Isaiah have paired slaughter of sheep with shearing of sheep? Shearing does no harm. Was there a projection onto sheep of the shame that attends the shearing or shaving of humans? (cf. Hanun’s treatment of David’s men in 2 Sam. 10:4)

8:38 – ἐκέλευσεν στήναι τὸ ἄρμα – “He ordered the chariot to stand”. Did the Ethiopian eunuch have a magical chariot that responded to voice commands? No, it’s metonymy for the charioteer, a person who, despite being present in the chariot the whole time, is never addressed except here. I’m reminded of an account of an Englishwoman’s travels, cited by David Konstan in an article on Herodotus, in which she is said to have “ventured alone into the heart of Africa, accompanied only by five servants and two native guides.” (Alone?) One wonders what the ultimate fate of this charioteer might have been.

8:39 – ὅτε δὲ ἀνέβησαν ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος – “when they came up from the water.” This phrase is often taken as an indication that immersion took place in this baptism, but in fact, it does not so imply. Rather, it simply reverses the action of 8:38 – κατέβησαν ἀμφότεροι εἰς τὸ ὕδωρ, “they both went down into the water”, which is distinct from καὶ ἐβάπτισεν αὐτόν. Philip might, for instance, have gone down, stood in the water with the eunuch, and sprinkled or poured water on him. On the other hand, if Philip had done some pouring on the eunuch, we might have expected it to be mentioned in order to echo Elijah’s pouring of water on the altar on Carmel. So probably immersion anyway, but the phrasing doesn’t specify it.

Two notes on diction:
8:1 – The disciples “were all scattered” (διεσπάρησαν). This is a verb used especially of sowing seed. There may be a metaphor here.

9:15 – σκεῦος … ἐστίν οὗτος τοῦ βαστάσαι τὸ ὀνομά μου… Paul is a “vessel to carry my name”. The verb “to carry” is a very physical one; Luke is comparing Paul to a jar that can be used to transport God’s name like so much water or oil or wine.

9:27 – Βαρναβας ἐπιλαβόμενος αὐτὸν ἤγαγεν πρὸς τοὺς ἀποστόλους – “Barnabas took him [Paul] and led him to the apostles.” This phrase might contain a reference to verse 21’s description of Paul’s purpose in coming to Damascus: ἵνα δεδεμένους αὐτοὺς ἀγάγῃ ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς — “so that he might lead them [Christians] bound to the chief priests.” It’s the biter bit, a further instance of the subordination of the Jews’ authorities to the church which was first seen in the many priests who became obedient to the faith (6:7) and the note that Barnabas was a Levite.


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