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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Murder

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The prevalence of murder was one of the dark facts in the social and political background of the early Apostolic Church. Fanaticism of a fierce and ruthless type was in the air, and human life was frequently as little regarded as is normal under such conditions. The resentment of the Zealots against the authority of Rome was a persistent fact in the situation from the third decade to the final catastrophe in a.d. 70, and when cruelty and oppression were carried to excess by Felix it was inevitable that there should arise in opposition a body of extremists to whom murder was merely a detail in a policy.

Thus during the time of Felix and Festus there arose the Sicarii (see Assassins), whose Jewish patriotism took a murderous shape. Their weapons were daggers (sicae; cf. Latin sicarius, ‘a murderer.’ The law passed under Sulla against murderers was Lex Cornelia de Sicariis). Armed with these, they moved with stealth through the crowds at festival seasons, seeking to remove their opponents by assassination. Then, in order to turn aside any possible suspicion, they gave way to loud expressions of grief. We find a reference to this group in Acts 21:38, where the chief captain (ὁ χιλίαρχος), finding that St. Paul speaks Greek, asks: ‘Art thou not then that Egyptian, which before these days stirred up to sedition and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the Assassins (τετρακισχιλίους ἄνδρας τῶν σικαρίων)?’ The Sicarii must have been the easy instrument at hand to every clever impostor, and the incident referred to here was the most notable example. An Egyptian Jew gave himself out as a prophet and held out to a crowd in the wilderness the alluring promise that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down at his word and so make the city theirs once more. Felix, however, put down the movement and took many prisoners. Josephus gives two accounts of this false prophet, in one of which (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) II. xiii. 5) he says that the majority of the 30,000 followers were captured or slain, and in the other (Ant. XX. viii. 6) that four hundred were killed and two hundred taken prisoners.

That murder was not unknown even among those identified with the Church may be inferred from 1 Peter 4:15, where the writer addresses a warning to Christians. They are not to resent the fiery trial, but to rejoice as those sharing the sufferings of Christ-only ‘Let none of you suffer as a murderer (ὡς φονεύς).’ In later days it was a commonplace of anti-Christian abuse to charge Christians with the horrors of child-slaying and cannibalism, but there seems to be no sufficient reason for reading into the passage quoted any reference to these charges. As C. Bigg has said, ‘A Christian might quite well be guilty of murder. The times were wild, and conversions must often have been imperfect’ (International Critical Commentary , ‘Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude,’ Edinburgh, 1901, p. 177).

R. Strong.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Murder'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/murder.html. 1906-1918.

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