Why did the Ethiopian require "explanation" of scripture in Acts 8?

by sabastious 79 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    Yes, I studied with Elaine Pagels at Columbia. I am not willing to reveal my actual name so you will have to take my word or disbelief. Frankly, I don't care. As I said, unlike a Guest, I am not very creative. I always cram a lot of details and piece items together. My credentials are that I am educated. Columbia, magna cum laude with Distinction in my major, and NYU Law School, with honors and a full merit schoiarship.

    All I do is repeat what I learned in class. I doubt Elaine would remember me but I could refresh her memory and honestly believe she would respond. What I wrote is generally accepted and not controversial. Besides the courses and my own study over decades which covers most of the major scholars, I bring the most important part of me - my humanity and nondeferential attitude.

    The details from Pagels and others count for about 5-10%. Critical thinking skills that I acquired are far more important to me. Even then, however, I'd still say a human reading the Bible verse by verse is the most important. I don't have resolutions or grand schemes. With access to an academic database and my own library, I can always pick up facts. What I do posess is the ability to ask hard questions. The same questions that others answer. Ethiopians are not born Jews. God fearers is a major category, not my own invention. What strikes most people reading this passage, including several others on this thread, is Philips' running fast enough to catch up to a moving chariot drawn by horses. The bigger question is how likely is it that an high ranking Ehtiopian just happens to be there in the desert and the authority is reading Isaiah's propehcy concerning the Messiah.

    This just happens as the church is expanding to Gentiles and carrying the new gospel - the good news-that Jesus is the Messiah. I've beaten enormous odds in my life. Jung's synchronicity. This over the top story telling. I'm not saying it never happened. The Ethiopian eunuch is hankering for Judaeo/Christian worship but will not undergo circumcision. Voila- his prayers are answered.

    I truly appreciated the observation that someone posted that Acts does not report that the Ehtiopian eunuch gave up all his titles and wealth to knock on doors. Cornelius is another example. They are not St. Francis of Assisi figures. The Eunuch believes in a resurrection of the body where his body will be restored to wholeness. Furthermore, the Acts passage shows that Christianity is not just popular among a bunch of Galilean fishermen. Worldly, sophisticated, weatlhy, and powerful humans also embrace Christ as Lord. This vignette is contrasted with what happened to Stephen when he preached the same message to Jews in the Temple.

    Yet despite the multitude of coincidences, I believe that a eunuch could be converted to Christianity.

    I won't apologize for studying under Pagels, reading James Robinson, Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright. It gives me some background. I was fortunate, stood up to horrific circumstances to attend college, and worked very hard. It is only some background, though. Perhaps this is important for 10% of Christianity. Imitating Jesus is the gold standard and college does not help with that much. I grope. Certainty about God - never. Hope and grace - a work in progress.

    I do not mean to be harsh to A Guest. It is just so difficult to read her posts. I want to ask questions that I would ask of anyone, including myself. Being nasty is not my intent. So many people seem to jump to her defense. Call me a voice in the wilderness raising concerns. If someone claims Holy Spirit, what conversation can there ever be? The church is a community not an aggregation of isolated voices.

  • PSacramento

    The Ethiopian was READING Isaiah, hence he knew and understood the language.

    What he did't know was that the prophecy of Isaiah was referring to Jesus.

    That is what he was taught by Philip AND the HS.

  • Awen


    I apologize if I came off harshly, such was not my intent (as I stated in my PM).

    I was merely curious as to your educational background. To be sure this thread was going before HBJ posted his thread in which you asked his background (which he has not given much information either, or he hadn't the last time I viewed the thread).

    In the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter to me except that you've seemingly introduced yourself as someone with some education in the Bible (other than JW "education") and when presented with someone (HBJ) or a similar ilk, you're (in my opinion) somewhat hostile as mentioned by Lady Lee's post for everyone to calm down and not deride HBJ. So it would seem fair to me that if you're unwilling to reveal detailed information concerning your education, then shouldn't you give others the benefit of the doubt as well? Isn't that fair?

    Just saying.


  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    I said nothing outrageous or even inappropriate to HBJ. Others said the pretty the same before I did. I expanded my comments so my meaning was clear. Of course, I am not a sear. Frankly, I don't see what motive he would have to lie b/c their is no money or anything else involved. His post struck me as in authentic and still does. A Guest strikes me as extremely authentic.

    I included the story that I was called a liar within my first few posts b/c I describe severe abuse from my Witness father. No one knows but me but if I erred in the first few posts, it was to be too understated as to how horrid my situation was. My story wasn't a coincidence. I planted it purposively to show that we can't judge others. The Internet precludes real knowledge of each other here.

    Anyway, even I my hunches are valid, what difference does it make? No one is collecting personal info or money under false pretences if the worst is true.

    I have a right as an adult to say when I doubt something. My wish is that we could meet and discuss things in real life. I find it hard to read people without seeing a face, body language, or voice intonations. I appreciated your pm. This format can get you going ----and the deception from the Witnesses does not help.

    If the worst thing I do in my life is write some posts, I am a saint. Nevertheless, I will strive to add some cushion to my remarks to soften the intro but not the thought. One thing that is so impressive on this board is the diversity. Civility is important to me but I also use this board as a way to vet. Friends have no idea. People here know.

  • Leolaia

    I have a few random comments on this topic.

    On the question of Judaism in first century AD Ethiopia, there is actually a good deal of evidence of this. The Beta Israel in Ethiopia describe their origins (outside of the legendary Kebra Nagast, which claims a Solomonic origin) as from a group of Egyptian Jews who left Egypt in the second half of the first century BC during the reign of Cleopatra, and this oral tradition may also connect them with the earlier Elephantine colony in Upper Egypt; some scholars have speculated that the ark of the covenant in Axum is a cult object from the Elephantine temple. The Ethiopians have preserved Essene scriptures like 1 Enoch and Jubilees (still canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church), pointing to a connection with Second Temple Judaism; the Ethiopic version of 1 Enoch contains the Book of Parables which is not extant at Qumran or anywhere else and which was likely written (possibly in Egypt?) in the early first century AD. This was not a provincial writing either, as there is a good deal of evidence that the Book of Parables was influential to early Christianity.

    The story of the Ethiopian eunuch also shows the eunuch's interest in the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53 (Deutero-Isaiah). This was a key text in early Christian teaching which gave a christological interpretation of the passage (so the song is quoted in Matthew 8:17, 26:63, 27:38, 60, Mark 15:28, Luke 22:37, 23:32, John 12:58, Romans 10:16, 15:21, 1 Peter 2:22, 25, and alluded to in countless other places in the NT and other early Christian texts), with the content in song itself informing narratives and soteriological perspectives about Jesus. But Christian interest was preceded by Jewish interest in this enigmatic text, as implied in the story itself (as the eunuch was already examining the Fourth Servant Song prior to his introduction to Philip's Christian evangelism). One early interpretation can be found in the Hebrew apocalypse of Daniel (ch. 8-12), which alludes to the servant as pertaining collectively to the faithful community suffering under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the mskylym, which recalls the use of the same word with reference to the servant in Isaiah 52:13, cf. especially Daniel 11:35, 12:3 = Isaiah 52:13, 53:9-11). The later Maccabean accounts (particularly 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees) develop this idea further, depicting the martyrs of Antiochus Epiphanes as dying expiatory deaths who would be rewarded with resurrection and/or immortality. The Alexandrine book of Wisdom (first century BC) also utilizes the figure in the paradigmatic faithful "servant of the Lord" who dies a shameful death (2:13, 20) who is later victoriously vindicated (5:1-6). The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (first century BC, possibly interpolated by Christians in the second century AD) makes reference to "the heavenly prophecy which says that the spotless one will be defiled by lawless men and the sinless one will die for the sake of impious men" (Testament of Benjamin 3:8, in the uninterpolated Armenian version), which is applied to the descendents of Joseph. This interpretation, in turn, gave rise to the later rabbinical Messiah b. Joseph, who was expected to be slain during the Gentile (Gog and Magog) assault on Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 12:10-12). There is a lot of uncertainty about how early the Messiah b. Joseph concept goes back, but there are interesting links with the Zoroastrian/Jewish Oracles of Hystaspes (popular among Christians according to Justin Martyr), the "two witnesses" in the book of Revelation (which may have been influenced by the Oracles of Hystaspes), and the later Apocalypse of Elijah (which reuses the concept of the "two witnesses" and also has Tabitha in the same role). Moreover the Assumption of Moses (first century AD) has a similar figure in the end-time priest Taxo (ch. 9) whose violent death is avenged in the establishment of God's kingdom (10:1-2), possibly by Taxo himself as priest in heaven, and Israel as a whole is glorified to heaven in 10:9-10, a passage clearly influenced by the Danielic interpretation of Isaiah 53. At Qumran, there is a possible eschatological application of the Suffering Servant to an unnamed figure in the Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q491c), who "suffers evil" and "bears all sorrows", who is uniquely exalted to heaven and "counted among the gods", whose glory is incomparable, and who would act in judgment. All of this shows that a messianic application of the Suffering Servant song, and one specifically to a suffering messiah, was already in place in Second Temple Judaism, with this text being a source of continued speculation about what kind of agent would appear at the end time. So the eunuch's interest in this passage was not uniquely Christian but shared by many eschatologically-minded Jews.

    Finally, just a few chapters later at the start of Trito-Isaiah (after the conclusion of the Book of Consolation), there is a remarkable blessing promised to faithful eunuchs: "Let no eunuch say, 'And I, I am a dried-up tree'. For Yahweh says this: To the eunuchs who observe my sabbaths, and resolve to do what pleases me and cling to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall never be effaced" (Isaiah 56:3-5). A Jew who was also a eunuch may have thus taken a personal interest in this section of Isaiah.

  • AGuest
    So the eunuch's interest in this passage was not uniquely Christian but shared by many eschatologically-minded Jews.

    Yes, and that was my perception, dear Leolaia (peace to you... and thank you, truly, for weighing in!): that it was of interest to BOTH and some who knew that were capitalizing on the contents of the particular writing (in Isaiah), due to the controversy as to whether the man who some were identifying as "messiah" was actually such ("Who do YOU say the Son of Man is?").

    Finally, just a few chapters later at the start of Trito-Isaiah (after the conclusion of the Book of Consolation), there is a remarkable blessing promised to faithful eunuchs: "Let no eunuch say, 'And I, I am a dried-up tree'. For Yahweh says this: To the eunuchs who observe my sabbaths, and resolve to do what pleases me and cling to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall never be effaced" (Isaiah 56:3-5). A Jew who was also a eunuch may have thus taken a personal interest in this section of Isaiah.

    Again, thank you! Based on this, it surely would not have been unusual for a man such as the Ethiopian to have an interest in Isaiah since, again, Isaiah's prophesy was addressed... specifically... to the Jews!

    I dunno - I am not completely sure why dear BOTR (peace to you, as well!) is being SO dogmatic on this matter (besides my profession of my Source, as perhaps she meant she believes me to be "extremely INauthentic", which is not the case at all). All I can think of is that either it doesn't make sense to her because the man was an Ethiopian... or (and I hope this truly isn't the case) perhaps she has had to put such great store in her "credentials" in order to be respected by those she usually deals with that she believes that's all that's needed (i.e., credentials vs. truth). I get that... although it saddens me, for her, if that is the case.

    But credentials don't equate to right... or truth. The TRUTH is that by the time of THIS event the Jews had been scattered THROUGHOUT THE EARTH... for CENTURIES. Including to Ethiopia (Kush), as references show. Which is why they had COME... from the most distant parts of the earth TO Jerusalem for the Festival. That year... and every year before. Thus, BOTR's statement that "Ethiopians are not born Jews" is... well, I don't know WHAT it is... other than misinformed, truly. Because "Ethiopian" is a nationality... not an ethnicity (that would be "Kushite") OR a religion.

    Whereas "Jew" is an ethnicity first (denoting one descending from Judah/Benjamin, the sons of Israel (Jacob)), and a religion, second (either by birth OR conversion). One can be born in Judea (at the time, the primary homeland of the Jews); however, that would not necessarily make one a Jew (either ethnically OR religiously) but merely a Judean. In the same manner, one can be BORN in Ethiopia... which would make them an Ethiopian... yet, by means of ancestry/religion... be a Jew. As Jews who are BORN in the U.S. are Americans (by nationality)... while still Jews (ethnically/religiously)

    I truly wish that dear BOTR would sometimes stop a moment and contemplate that perhaps she's letting her.... ummmmm... "reverence" for her education blind her to, well, even common sense. That truly is the case, here. While she is, perhaps, the most educated person on the board (on the other hand, perhaps not - who knows? Who cares??), not all of us here are UNeducated. Some of us others have higher education degrees as well (including a doctorate, in my case). But so what? Again, WHO cares??? This is not about rocket science; rather, it's about some often very elementary matters. No, I didn't study "under" some world renowned scholar. And no, I haven't read the works of some other world renowned scholar. I am taught by One whose worldly educational claim to fame consisted of 6th grade level at a temple that was destroyed close to 2,000 years ago... and whose worldly occupational claim to fame was as a carpenter. So, there's no way I can match my "teacher's" worldly credentials with those dear BOTR says she learned from.

    But I wasn't trying to: because my teacher's credentials weren't... and aren't... limited to what is accepted and revered in this world. And while I get that that may be difficult for some with more... ummmmm... "critical thinking" skills (well, as far as what is possible by means of THIS world)... it isn't for me. And that's for one reason only: he has never lied to me... or led me to lie to others. Ever. So, I trust him, yet. Yes, over the various world renowned scholars. Indeed, MUCH more so.

    Again, thank you for your comments... and peace to you!

    A slave of Christ,


  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run


    What she posted does not endorse your view. I claim Christ, but I do not claim that my notion of Christ can begin to match the reality of Christ. Acts is clearly a Christian text.

  • AGuest
    SA, What she posted does not endorse your view.

    My "view" was and is that the Ethiopian was a Jew, dear BOTR (again, peace to you!). Seeing as the Ethiopian was (1) reading Isaiah, and (2) hadn't yet received the promised holy spirit (which would have made him a "christian")... I can't see how dear Leolaia's statement (again, peace to you, as well!) that "the eunuch's interest in this passage was not uniquely Christian but shared by many eschatologically-minded Jews," disagrees with that view. To the contrary, it seems to support it. However, I cannot answer for dear Leolaia as to her intent, so perhaps she'll clarify (I mean, if she believes continuing this discussion is worth her time... which I am not so sure; as to hers OR mine)...

    I claim Christ,


    but I do not claim that my notion of Christ can begin to match the reality of Christ.

    K. But that's you... and your [acknowledged] limitation. It isn't me... or mine.

    Acts is clearly a Christian text.

    Yes. And the account in question is... CLEARLY... about a Jew. Which, again, has been my "view" from the first... and later confirmed for ME... by the vision I was given. Which you apparently are unable to wrap your head around. But that's on you, dear one...

    Again, peace to you!

    YOUR servant and a slave of Christ,

    SA, who started to say that surely a Columbia/NYU graduate should be able to grasp these truths by now and was reminded, by my Lord, that "Nahh, not necessarily."

  • Kenneson

    Thousands of Ethiopian Jews have immigrated and settled in Israel. Israel considers them to be Jews. Why, therefore, should it be considered an impossibility for the Ethiopian eunuch to have been a Jew?

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    I remember when those Jews were reclaimed by Israel decades ago. Also, my brother told me that there is a very African tribe further into Africa that shares Jewish Cohenim DNA. They aren't certain how the DNA ended up in Africa, except for extensive trade routes.

    I did not mean it was physically impossible for him to be a Jew. It is unlikely, given circumcision. Crossan points out and Acts is about carrying the good news to the nations beyond Israel that many ethnicities were attracted to Jewish beliefs in monotheism. Crossan mentions a spirituality strand distinct in Judaism and Christianity. I am not certain that I agree. The closest I can describe it is how many people from traditional religions are drawn to the New Age movement.

    Christianity prob. never would have survived were it not for a Gentile audience. Crossan talks at length about a category translated as god-fearers. Many texts of that time refer to them. They would attend synagogues. We could call them Jewish in religion, except for circumcision, a big, painful step. The best place to introduce Christianity would be to this group. They were familiar with Jewish scriptures and beliefs. Also, whatever drew them to Judaism away from their native beliefs would also attract them to Christianity.

    It makes sense that a God-fearer might be studying Isaiah. Certainly, more sense than a Vulcan reading it. The author of Acts is reporting on the Holy Spirit,

    Personally, I could not care less whether the eunuch was a true Ethiopian, a God-fearer, or a circumcised Jew. I know that among the overwhelming majority of religious Jews in NYC today, Judaism comes from the mother. Conversion is possible but not sought from rabbis. It is very hard to become a Jew in that sense. I don't know whether circumcision is required for converted Conservative or Orthodox and it is beside the point.

    I repeatedly mention something I studied or observed and only person consistently says no way. Believe or not, I do not post here to have arguments with A Guest. I am wrong for becoming too enmeshed in whatever game she plays. After all these months, I have no clue what she believes or teaches. What is clear is that I am not here to learn.

    Sharing reflections is one thing. I don't need the WTBTS by another name saying I am wrong. A Guest is entitled to believe whatever she believes. I would say that if I err it is towards scholarship rather than a free "holy spirit" movement. Notice that "holy spirit" is in quotes. Who can judge or measure what the Holy Spirit or whatever it truly is directs someone to believe? I can't.

    I am earnestly going to try my best and pray for help in not biting in to arguments.

    If I do not respond or say nothing when she deigns to correct poor, poor,most ignorant me, I am not agreeing. My wish is for A Guest to be mature, too, so I must be mature. Not posting is NOT AFFIRMATION. tHIS ..... was certainly never my intention. It seems there is immunity on this board for a handful of information posters and not for others. My hope was to interact with people. Information is freely available in my bookcase and on the Internet.

    So what differences does it makes? He converts to Christianity.

    I am not the high school hall monitor or an elder. Whatever.

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