Many biblical characters – even ones whose influence or actions are important – are relatively unknown.

Who Is This Guy?

Ananias

Ananias, husband of Sapphira, Acts 4:32 -5:10

Ananias, the Lord's representative to Paul, Acts 9:1-20

Ananias the High Priest of the Jews, the Tribune Claudius Lysias, and the Roman Governor Felix, Acts 23:1-10, 23:25-35

Ananias the High Priest, a spokesman Tertullus, Roman Governor Felix and wife Drusilla, Claudius Lysias the tribune, and Porcius Festus (successor to Felix), Acts 24:1-10, 17-27

Porcius Festus, and King Agrippa and Bernice, Acts 25:1-22

Porcius Festus, and King Agrippa and Bernice, Acts 25:23 -26:3, 26:19-32


Two Prophets

Iddo the prophet, and another Iddo, who seems to be some sort of mayor, 2 Chronicles 12:15, 13:22; Ezra 5:1; Zechariah 1:1-11; Ezra 6:14-15, 8:16-17

Gad the prophet, who isn't Gad the son of Jacob and Leah, Genesis 30:10-11; 1 Samuel 22:3-5; 2 Samuel 24:10-25; 1 Chronicles. 29:29-30


Several Foreign Kings

King Ahasuerus a.k.a. Xerxes, Esther 1:1-22

King Cyrus, Ezra 1:1-11, 4:1-5

King Artaxerxes, Ezra 4:6-24

King Darius, Ezra 5:1-3, 11-17, 6:1-15



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The wrath of Ahasuerus, by Jan Steen, ca. 1669; see Esther 7:1-8.  Click to enlarge.
The wrath of Ahasuerus, by Jan Steen, ca. 1669; see Esther 7:1-8.  Click to enlarge.
Acts 4:32 -5:10, Ananias, husband of Sapphira (01/13/22)

How many guys do you know named "Dave"? A quick perusal of the St. John's phone book turned up six, of whom I know four, and I know at least one other Dave who isn't a St. John's member. We shouldn't automatically assume (you don't, I know, but some people do) that any two people with the same name in the Bible are the same person. The New Testament has three guys named "Ananias" (an-uh-NI-us). Today's Ananias apparently sold the farm for one price, which was okay, and gave some of the money to the apostles, which was probably also okay, and said that what he gave was the full amount. Definitely not okay.


Acts 9:1-20, Ananias, the Lord's representative to Paul (01/14/22)

One of the great lines in "Independence Day" – which by the way is the Best Movie Ever Made – is "Are you sure?"

You probably have heard of the Ananias whom God sent to Saul, on the other side of town. Ananias was one of the new Christians (at that time called "followers of the Way"), and Saul was famous for persecuting Christians. In vss. 13-14, I love the way Ananias asks God, "Are you sure?"


Acts 23:1-10, 23:25-35, Ananias the High Priest of the Jews, the Tribune Claudius Lysias, and the Roman Governor Felix (01/17/22)

The third Ananias is Ananias the high priest. Much ink has been spilled about why both Ananias and Caiaphas are called the "high priest," when there's only one at a time. I suspect the reason is very simple. Even if I say, "President Obama was on television yesterday," or "I hear President Trump will be speaking tomorrow," you know that the real, current President is Joe Biden, and Obama and Trump are former presidents. So I think Ananias was really the former high priest and Caiaphas the real, current high priest, and everybody knew that, so the writers just left out "former." But if you don't agree with me, that's okay.

Anyway, we're going to read most of four chapters of Acts, because Ananias, Claudius Lysius, Felix, Drusilla, Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice all appear at more or less the same time in the story of Paul's trial. His trial starts with Ananias, the former high priest of the Jews, presiding. When things get rowdy, the tribune, Claudius Lysias, decides that a change of venue is needed. Claudius Lysias was the commander of the Roman army's garrison in Jerusalem. The tribune sends Paul to the Roman governor of Judea, Felix. He was appointed by Emperor Claudius and governed from 52 to 60 AD; he had a reputation for cruelty and greed. Antipatris and Caesarea are cities, and Cilicia is a province; you don't have to learn who they are.


Acts 24:1-10, 17-27, Ananias the High Priest of the Jews, a spokesman Tertullus, Roman Governor Felix and wife Drusilla, Claudius Lysias the tribune, and Porcius Festus (successor to Felix) (01/18/22)

One reason for saying, "Who is this guy? Have I seen this guy before?" in this section of Acts is that it is just jam-packed with people, and they are all interwoven. Tertullus appears out of nowhere, and Claudius Lysias the tribune is mentioned again, but he isn't present right now. Ananias, Paul, and Felix are still here, but now Felix's wife Drusilla is mentioned. Could we decide that Felix knew about the Way (vs. 22) because, even though he was Roman, he had a Jewish wife (vs. 24)? Maybe. Finally, Porcius Festus, the successor to Felix, appears for the first time.

Felix and Drusilla, by the way, had a son Agrippa, who is apparently the only person known by name who died at Pompeii in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, according to Josephus. Either his own wife or Drusilla was with him. I just thought I'd throw this Agrippa in to confuse you; you don't have to remember him.


Acts 25:1-22, Porcius Festus (successor to Felix), and King Agrippa and Bernice (01/19/22)

Porcius Festus followed Felix as governor of Judea, apparently around AD 59, although proposed dates range from 55 to 61. He inherited Paul from Felix, and Paul's opponents immediately try to get him to send Paul to Jerusalem. Festus is at a loss. Paul says this Jesus guy is alive, and his opponents say he is dead. What is the big deal? Nevertheless, Paul is a Roman citizen, and he has appealed to Caesar – but what's Festus supposed to tell Caesar?? Then King Agrippa and Bernice show up: what a relief! They're Jewish: maybe they can give him a clue about what's going on!


Acts 25:23 -26:3, 26:19-32, Porcius Festus (successor to Felix), and King Agrippa and Bernice (01/20/22)

Before this week, I definitely could have identified all three men named Ananias. I knew that Felix and Festus were both Roman officials, but I could never keep them straight. Tertullus and Lysias who? I've read this passage many, many times without ever paying them enough attention to remember their names, let alone what they did. I probably would have recognized the names of Drusilla and Bernice, but not their roles. I would have known that Agrippa was one of the Herods, but I kind of thought it was Festus who was almost persuaded to become a Christian.

Here's the point: these are all bit players – they appear here in Paul's trial, and that's about it. But every single one of them was instrumental in Paul's imprisonment, trial, and ultimate arrival in Rome. Without these events, we would not have several of the letters that are now part of the New Testament. Sometimes bit players are important.


2 Chronicles 12:15, 13:22; Ezra 5:1; Zechariah 1:1-11; Ezra 6:14-15, 8:16-17, Iddo the prophet, and another Iddo, who seems to be some sort of mayor (01/21/22)

The most important message today is from Zechariah: "Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts." Doesn't matter who you are, God will always take you back.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Some time back, fellow reader Clyde C. asked what we know about Iddo the prophet. Answer: not much. We know he was a prophet because he is named as a prophet, or seer, in 2 Chronicles 12:15 and 13:22. We also know this because Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo was definitely a prophet, and the rabbis (who ought to know) say that if the name of a prophet's father is given, the father is also a prophet (Isaacs, 1998, Messengers of God, p. 31).

The Iddo in Ezra 8:17 may or may not be the same guy; you can't tell just from the name, as we saw with Jesus and Ananias. This Iddo seems to have been (very roughly) a mayor or maybe the leading churchman. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are different, however, because prophets very often had day jobs, like Amos, who was a shepherd (Amos 1:1).


Genesis 30:10-11; 1 Samuel 22:3-5; 2 Samuel 24:10-25; 1 Chronicles. 29:29-30; Gad the prophet, who isn't Gad the son of Jacob and Leah (01/24/22)

There are famous prophets with books, like Amos and Isaiah. There are famous prophets without books, like Elijah and Elisha. And there are non-famous prophets without books, like Jehu (1 Kings 16:7, 12). Non-famous is not the same as non-important, however. Gad was one of David's prophets, and he brought God's word to David on more than one occasion. He did have a book, but it is lost to us. Gad the prophet has the same name as Gad the son of Jacob and Leah, but he's not the same guy.


Esther 1:1-22, King Ahasuerus a.k.a. Xerxes (01/25/22)

It's bad enough when two or three guys have the same name, but what do you do when one guy has two completely different names? For the rest of the week we're going to learn about some foreign kings who were important during and after the Babylonian exile. The first king we'll read about is Ahasuerus [A-has-you-EE-russ], or maybe Xerxes [ZERK-sees], depending on your translation. If you've ever read the book of Esther, you've read all about him and about how the beautiful Jewess Esther became his queen by winning a beauty contest. She was also smart and saved the exiled Jews from extinction as a result of a plot by the evil Haman. The painting at the top of the page shows Esther, Ahasuerus, and Haman at dinner, right after Esther has revealed that Haman is out to kill her and her people.

Note that in vss. 10 and 14 the lists of 13 men whose names are hard to pronounce, who don't speak, and who aren't individually important to us. They are extras.


Ezra 1:1-11, 4:1-5, King Cyrus (01/26/22)

We probably aren't looking at these foreign kings in chronological order, partly because the chronology is complicated. In the first place, there's more than one Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes in history, and in the second place, the book of Ezra itself is apparently not written in chronological order. Look them up on Wikipedia if you're interested; call them Fred, George, and Henry if you aren't – the names aren't especially important. What is important is that these foreign kings were responsible for big chunks of Jewish history.

Now, you know that the Babylonian foreign policy was to take conquered peoples and put them somewhere else. The Medes and Persians (one man's Medes are another man's Persians) conquered Babylon around 540 BC under the leadership of King Cyrus. His foreign policy was to send everybody back home, as we read today in the book of Ezra. God used these foreign kings to send the Jews into exile as punishment for apostasy and then back home when they learned their lesson.

Now for some weird chronology. Cyrus was the maternal grandfather of Xerxes, a.k.a. Ahasuerus, about whom we read yesterday in the book of Esther. So why are the Jews sent home under Cyrus and still in Susa under his grandson Xerxes? It's a mystery, but the answer may lie in the apparent fact that not all the Jews wanted to go back home (see vss. 5-6).


Ezra 4:6-24, King Artaxerxes [AR-ta-ZERK-sees] (see also Ezra 7:1-28) (01/27/22)

Aha! I found this cool lineage chart on Wikipedia. Whether all scholars agree with this particular chart or not (and I doubt that they do), you can easily see why it's hard to match up the foreign kings we're reading about this week with specific guys of the same name on the chart. So "Who is this guy?" is pertinent in two ways: 1. Have we read about him before in the Bible at all? and 2. Which Cyrus? Which Darius? Which Artaxerxes? And which, if any, of those guys is Ahasuerus?

We saw that King Cyrus sent the Jews back to Judea with instructions to rebuild the house of the LORD, but the neighbors took offense. It looks to me like at least two letters of complaint were sent to kings – one to the Ahasuerus/Xerxes we read about in Esther (vs. 6), and one to Artaxerxes (ar-ta-ZERK-sees) (vs. 7 on). The latter one says correctly that the Jews have always been a pain in the neck to foreign rulers and suggests that Artaxerxes put a stop to the rebuilding. Artaxerxes answers, "Yeah, you're right."


Ezra 5:1-3, 11-17, 6:1-15, King Darius [DARE-ee-us] (01/28/22)

Last night I watched Independence Day for the umpteenth time, and I still can't remember the names of many characters, even important characters. Some I couldn't pick out of a lineup, but the major at Area 51? Oh yeah, I know him and what he did. Not his name – just his face and why he was important.

So here's the point for our study. We're still reading about the foreign kings who were instrumental in the history of the Jews during and after the Exile. The names of all these old, long-dead kings and governors aren't all that important. What they did is important. So when you come to a name like Artaxerxes or Sheshbazzar, just say Art or Seth. That will allow you to get on with the story and actually understand what's happening.

We read yesterday that the Samaritans wrote to King Art complaining that the Jews were rebuilding, and Art issued a stop-work order. When King Darius, Art's successor, comes on the scene, the Jews write to him and say, "Look it up! King Cyrus said we could do this!" Now, the law was that once issued, no decree of the Mede and Persian kings could be altered. Sure enough, Darius's people find the original order, and he says that not only can the Jews get back to work, but apparently the Samaritans have to do some of the financing. By the way, Zerubbabel ("Zeb") and Shealtiel ("Sol") are ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:12).


More of Who Is This Guy?
Introduction
Three guys named Ananias, Two Prophets, and Several Foreign Kings
Foreign gods and goddesses, Caleb, the Sons of Aaron, and Two Jehus
Gehazi, Four or five guys named James, Three Important Wives, Children with Ominous Names, and Ten Simeons and Simons
Biblical guys who are gals, Several queens, and who is this guy really?
Guys, and one Gal, with God in their Name

Copyright 2022 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB. Image used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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