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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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Mention is made of the synagogue of the Libertines, Acts 6:9; concerning whom there are different opinions, two of which bid fairest for the truth. The first is that of Grotius and Vitringa, that they were Italian Jews or proselytes. The ancient Romans distinguished between libertus and libertinus. Libertus was one who had been a slave, and obtained his freedom; libertinus was the son of a libertus. But this distinction in after ages was not strictly observed; and libertines also came to be used for one not born, but made free, in opposition to ingenuus, or one born free. Whether the libertini, mentioned in this passage of the Acts were Gentiles, who had become proselytes to Judaism, or native Jews, who having been made slaves to the Romans were afterward set at liberty, and in remembrance of their captivity called them recites libertini, and formed a synagogue by themselves, is differently conjectured by the learned. It is probable the Jews of Cyrenia, Alexandria, &c, built synagogues at Jerusalem at their own charge, for the use of their brethren who came from those countries; as the Danes, Swedes, &c, build churches for the use of their own countrymen in London; and that the Italian Jews did the same; and because the greatest number of them were libertini, their synagogue was therefore called the synagogue of the Libertines. The other opinion, which is hinted by OEcumenius on the Acts, and mentioned by Dr.

Lardner, as more lately advanced by Mr. Daniel Gerdes, professor of divinity in the university of Groningen, is this, that the Libertines are so called from a city or country called Libertus, or Libertina, in Africa, about Carthage. Suidas, in his Lexicon, on the word λιβερτινος , says it was ονομα εθνους , nomen gentis. [The name of a nation.] And the glossa interlinearis, of which Nicolas de Lyra made great use in his notes, hath over the word libertini, e regione, denoting that they were so styled from a country. In the acts of the famous conference with the Donatists at Carthage, A.D. 411, there is mentioned one Victor, bishop of the church of Libertina: and in the acts of the Lateran council, which was held in 649, there is mention of Januarius gratia Dei episcopus sanctae ecclesiae Libertinensis; [Januarius by the grace of God bishop of the holy church of Libertine;] and therefore Fabricius, in his "Geographical Index of Christian Bishoprics," has placed Libertine in what was called Africa Propria, or the proconsular province of Africa. Now, as all the other people of the several synagogues, mentioned in this passage of the Acts, are denominated from the places from whence they came, it is probable that the Libertines were so too; and as the Cyrenians and Alexandrians, who came from Africa, are placed next to the Libertines in that catalogue, it is probable they also belonged to the same country. So that, upon the whole, there is little reason to doubt of the Libertines being so called from the place from whence they came; and the order of the names in the catalogue might lead us to think, that they were farther off from Jerusalem than Alexandria and Cyrenia, which will carry us to the proconsular province in Africa about Carthage.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Libertines'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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