Rick Strelan, «Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)?», Vol. 85 (2004) 65-81
In Acts 13, Bar Jesus is confronted by Paul and cursed by him. This false prophet is generally thought to have been syncretistic and virtually pagan in his magical practices. This article argues that he was in fact very much within the synagogue and that he had been teaching the ways of the Lord. He was also a threat to the Christian community of Paphos and may even have belonged inside of it. Luke regards him as a serious threat to the faith because of his false teaching about righteousness and the ways of the Lord.
74 Rick Strelan
connection between being sunetov" and believing made in Sir 33,3: â€˜A
man of understanding will trust in the lawâ€™ (a[nqrwpo" suneto;"
ejmpisteuvsei nomw). If Luke is implicitly referring to this passage, then
the suggestion again is that the novmo" and its interpretation is at stake
in this conflict with Bar Jesus.
Jervell is right to claim that the use of Septuagintal terms suggests
that Paulâ€™s charge â€œsind Worte gegen einen Judenâ€ (27). After all, Bar
Jesus has already been identified as a Jew (13,6). But more
importantly, it suggests that the conflict between Bar Jesus and Paul
has been on scriptural matters, not on such things as magic or dream
interpretation. If the word or law of God, and its interpretation, has
been the centre of the debate, as 13,7 suggests, then again it makes
sense to understand Bar Jesus as being familiar with that word and as
having a particular teaching based on that word. In other words, Bar
Jesus belongs close to the tradition, at the very least of the synagogue,
if not actually within a Christian community at Paphos. In addition,
the fact that it is the teaching of the Lord (didach; tou' kuriou, 13,12)
that astonishes the proconsul and leads to his believing is further
evidence that this whole episode is not about magic versus
Christianity, but about one teaching (namely, that of Paul) being truly
derived from the Lord and based on the word of God versus another
teaching (that of Bar Jesus) that has its authentication, as Luke would
have it, from elsewhere.
4. Bar Jesus
One reason for thinking that this Jewish prophet was actually
within the Christian community is found in his name. It is possible, of
course, that Bar Jesus was the manâ€™s real name and that he was
biologically the son of a man named Jesus. After all, it was common
practice for prophets to be identified as the â€˜son ofâ€™. So, for example,
Jehu is â€˜the son of Hananiâ€™ (1 Kgs 15,33), Elisha is â€˜the son of Shaphat
(1 Kgs 19,19), Isaiah is the â€˜son of Amozâ€™ (2 Kgs 19,2) and Zechariah,
the â€˜son of Iddoâ€™ (Ezra 6,14). So in order to bolster his claim as a
prophet, this man used the self-designation, â€˜son of Jesusâ€™. That is
possible, but given the context and the significance of the name â€˜Jesusâ€™
in Acts, this seems too much of a coincidence. I suggest that we
consider the possibility that the man called himself Bar Jesus because
he thought himself to be a disciple of Jesus. Or, at the very least, he
(27) JERVELL, Apostelgeschichte, 347.