the First Week of Advent
Click here to join the effort!
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
‘Famine’ is used throughout in the Revised Version to translate λιμός, having taken the place of ‘dearth’ In Acts 7:11; Acts 11:28 (Authorized Version ). The remaining passages are Romans 8:35, Revelation 6:8; Revelation 18:8. The most important of these references is Acts 11:28, where μεγάλην, followed by ἤτις, the reading of the best Manuscripts , proclaims the noun as feminine. In Luke 15:14 it is of the same gender, but in Luke 4:25 it is masculine. In Josephus, Ant. XX. v. 2, τὸν μέγαν λιμόν appears.
We deal first with the great famine which seems to be common to Josephus and the Book of Acts. As it is spoken of in both places in the same terms, so both passages are taken to refer to one and the same event. Uncertainty attaches to the scope of the famine, which, according to St. Luke, was spread over the whole world as then known, but which, according to Josephus, was restricted to Judaea . Schürer (GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 3 i.  567) is inclined to regard the statement of Acts as unhistorical generalization, and for this he compares Luke 2:1. The Bible historian is defended by W. M. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveller, 1895, p. 49): ‘he merely says that famine occurred over the whole (civilized) world in the time of Claudius: of course the year varied in different lands.’ As a matter of fact, local famines did frequently occur during that reign (see Schürer, loc. cit., and Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , s.v. ‘Claudius’) in lands other than Judaea . The date of the Judaea n famine may be approximately determined by Herod Agrippa i.’s death, which took place in a.d. 44 (cf. Acts 11:29-30; Acts 12:23; Acts 12:25). The dates assigned by chronologists range from that year up to a.d. 46 (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 480, and Ramsay, op. cit. 63, 254). For the actual situation in Palestine compare Josephus, Ant. III. xv. 3, xx. ii. 5, v. 2; in the last two paragraphs the succour given by Queen Helena is detailed.
St. Luke, while careful to maintain the position of Agabus as a prophet, here in the sense of one foretelling the future (cf. Acts 21:11), himself reviews the situation from a point outside the reign of Claudius, which terminated in a.d. 54. He therefore could survey the general feature of that reign, viz. as being an age of famine, and at the same time give particular attention to the local famine in Judaea , which involved Barnabas and Saul.
The whole position during the Apostolic Age may be regarded as perilous to the food supply. It was so for the Empire, owing to State policy, and for Palestine because of the insecurity of the times, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem, during which famine was extreme. Natural causes may have added to the straits, as the allusions of classical writers show. This matter has been considered from a novel point of view, viz. the relation between famine and the rainfall, by Ellsworth Huntington, who concludes that ‘the second half of the first century may have been slightly drier than the first half, for at that time famines prevailed to an unusual extent’ (Palestine and its Transformation, 1911, p. 327). He supports his main theory of pulsatory changes in climate by calling in the evidence of inscriptions, and he finds that the decades a.d. 61-70, 91-100, are without inscriptions (true for Syria), and these are taken to be intervals of desiccation and consequent scarcity. While illuminating the general situation, this does not bring us nearer than the historians do to fixing the date of Specific famines.
The condition pictured in Revelation 6:5-6 is one of scarcity, when wheat and barley are to be weighed out with care to prevent a worse condition arising. In the next vision (v. 8) this worse condition is described, when death results from famine, among other evils.
In the rhetorical appeal addressed by St. Paul to the Christians in Rome famine appears in the catalogue of afflictions (Romans 8:35). Assuming that Babylon the Great is to be identified with Rome, it is a fitting sequel to the probable experience of the Christiana there, that famine should be one of the plagues by which the Imperial city is to be finally overtaken (Revelation 18:8).
Famines of OT times are recalled: (1) in Egypt and Canaan (Acts 7:11); (2) in Israel (James 5:17-18, the absence of rain implying Tack of earth’s fruit; cf. Luke 4:25, where famine is named).
Literature.-Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Claudius’; Encyclopaedia Biblica , article ‘Chronology’ (§ 76): E. Schürer. GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 3 i  567, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. ii. [1890) 169 n. [Note: . note.] ; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, 1895, pp. 48-51; J. B. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, 1893, p. 216f.; A. Hausrath, A History of NT Times, ii  186ff.; O. Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, ii  227f.; G. A. Smith. Jerusalem, ii.  563.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Famine'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​f/famine.html. 1906-1918.