12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 And they went to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 You therefore, along with the council, give notice now to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”
16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush; so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 And Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune; for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not yield to them; for more than forty of their men lie in ambush for him, having bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.”
23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “At the third hour of the night get ready two hundred soldiers with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesare′a. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:
26 “Claudius Lys′ias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. 27 This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be killed by them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge on which they accused him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antip′atris. 32 And on the morrow they returned to the barracks, leaving the horsemen to go on with him. 33 When they came to Caesare′a and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked to what province he belonged. When he learned that he was from Cili′cia 35 he said, “I will hear you when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.
When I was living in England in the 1990’s I met a curator of Roman artifacts at the British Museum and asked her about Roman attitudes toward Jews in Roman-occupied Judea. Without hesitation she replied, “The Romans thought they were terrorists.” The Acts account here makes this understandable: single-minded zeal to destroy Paul drives more than forty men to vow a total fast until they have killed him. The tribune, Claudius Lysias (we finally learn his name) knew enough to take this threat seriously and responds with a massive force to protect Paul—a Roman citizen. (The tribune would have had 600-1000 men under his command; full Roman legion included six cohorts of this size.)
Note that the tribune is not entirely truthful in his letter to governor Felix (who held this post 52-59 AD.) He omits the fact that Paul had been illegally bound and was about to be summarily whipped. Had Paul brought this to light later it might have gone very badly for Claudius Lysias.
Paul’s sister and nephew play a key role to inform the tribune, which shows that Paul had relatives in Jerusalem who were well-connected both to the Jewish leadership and to the Roman authorities.
Throughout Acts the Roman authorities are treated with respect as protectors of rights and civil order. But later, by the end of first century the Romans were cruel persecutors of the Christians, and Rome became “the whore of Babylon” in the book of Revelation.
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Paul’s would be assassins were driven by zeal for an evil purpose. God grant that we might have 1/10th of that zeal for serving Christ and building up the Church.
Archivist of Saint Herman Seminary
Daria Safronova-Simeonoff, who lives in Kodiak, Alaska and works as the SHS Archivist and Instructor in Church Slavonic and Russian Church History, is doing research for ten days in the OCA’s archives. This is part of a research tour to complete her PhD dissertation for Ohio State University. This summer Mrs. Simeonoff is also studying documents in Juneau, Sitka and Fort Ross, CA.
In the OCA’s archives her special focus are 19th and early 20th century reports and correspondence related to the education of native peoples in Alaska, especially Kodiak. Even after the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867 the Russian Orthodox Church continued to support the church’s teachers and schools in Alaska with large sums of aid. In fact, the quality of the schools rivaled the American public school system that was introduced as the US took over the territory. Russia also continued to help fund clergy, retired clergy and clergy widows with large sums of financial aid. The working title of Mrs. Simeonoff’s dissertation is “Native literacy and native writing systems of the Kodiak Archipelago during and after Russian colonization of Alaska.” This is a multi-disciplinary study that includes native literacy, Slavic linguistics, education and oral history.
Mrs. Simeonoff came to Kodiak four years ago after degrees in St. Petersburg and Ohio State University.