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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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In Acts 19:31 Revised Version margin reads ‘Asiarchs’ for Revised Version ‘chief officers of Asia’ and Authorized Version ‘chief of Asia.’ The word is a transliteration of the Gr. Ἀσιάρχης, derived from Ἀσία, ‘province of Asia,’ and ἄρχειν, ‘to rule,’ and belongs to a class of names, of which Βιθυνιάρχης, Γαλατάρχης, Καππαδοκάρχης, Λυκιάρχης, Ποντάρχης, Συριάρχης are other examples. The titles are peculiar to Eastern, Greek-speaking, Roman provinces. As the real rulers of these provinces were the Roman Emperor and the Roman Senate, with their elected representatives, it is clear that such titles must have been honorary and complimentary. With regard to the duties and privileges attached to the dignities thus indicated there has been much discussion. The titles occur rarely in literature, much more often in inscriptions; and the lessons we learn from inscriptions are in direct proportion to their number. Several scholars of repute have hold the view that the term Ἀσιάρχης is equivalent to ἀρχιερεὺς Ἀσίας (‘high priest of Asia’), the president of the Diet of Asia (κοινὸν τῆς Ἀσίας, commune Asiae). This Diet of Asia was a body composed of a number of representatives, one or more of whom were elected by each of a number of cities in the province. The principal duty of the president of this body was to supervise the worship of Rome and the Emperor throughout the province (see under article Emperor-Worship). Certain considerations, however, militate against the view ‘that the terms ‘Asiarch’ and ‘high priest of Asia’ are interchangeable. The word Ἀσιάρχης is never feminine, whereas the title ‘high priestess of Asia’ is often applied to the wife of the high priest. There was only one ἀρχιερεὺς Ἀσίας (without further designation) at a time, whereas there were a number of Asiarchs. Another (civil) office could be held concurrently with the Asiarchate, but not with the chief priesthood of Asia. Further, the title ‘Asiarch’ was held only during a man’s period of office (probably one year* [Note: But see Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, pt. ii. vol. iii. p. 412 ff.] ), but he was eligible for re-election. The origin of the view that ‘Asiarch’ and ‘high priest of Asia’ are two convertible terms is to be found in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (a.d. 155), where two separate persons named Philippos have been confused: (1) Philip of Smyrna, Asiarch, who superintended the games; (2) Philip of Tralles, who was high priest of Asia (the latter had been an Asiarch a year or two before). It is clear, therefore, that the honorary position of Asiarch was inferior to the office of high priest of Asia. Yet there was a connexion between the two. The high priest presided over the games, etc., but the Asiarchs did the work and probably paid the cost. Their election by their fellow-citizens to this honorary position was rewarded by games and gladiatorial shows. Both the Asiarchs and the high priest disappear after the early part of the 4th cent., for the obvious reason that, as the Empire was henceforth officially Christian, the machinery for Emperor-worship had become obsolete.

When we come to study the connexion of the Asiarchs with the Acts narrative, we are puzzled. It seems at first sight so strange that men elected to foster the worship of Rome and the Emperor should be found favouring the ambassador of the Messiah, the Emperor’s rival for the lordship of the Empire. This is only one, however, of a number of indications that the Empire was at first disposed to look with a kindly eye on the new religion. Christianity, with its outward respect for civil authority, seemed at first the strongest supporter of law and order. Artemis-worship, moreover, hulked so largely in Ephesus as perhaps to dwarf the Imperial worship. Thus St. Paul, whose preaching so threatened the authority of Artemis, may have appeared in a favourable light to the representatives of Caesar-worship, as likely to create more enthusiasm in that direction.

See also articles Diana and Ephesus.

Literature.-C. G. Brandis, s.vv. ‘Asiarches,’ ‘Bithyniarches,’ ‘Galatarches,’ in Pauly-Wissowa [Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.] , Stuttgart, 1894ff.; J. B. Lightfoot, Appendix, ‘The Asiarchate’ in his Apostolic Fathers, pt. ii. vol. iii., London, 1889, p. 404ff.; W. M. Ramsay in Classical Review, iii. [1889] 174, and St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 280f.

A. Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Asiarch'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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