the Fifth Week of Lent
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Λυσανίας, a common Greek name) is mentioned by Luke, in Luke 3:1, as tetrarch of Abilene, on the eastern slope of the anti-Lebanon, near Damascus, at the time when John the Baptist began his ministry, A.D. 25. (See ABILA).
It happens, however, that Josephus speaks of a prince named Lysanias who ruled over a territory in the neighborhood of Lebanon in the time of Antony and Cleopatra, and that he also mentions Abilene as associated with the name of a tetrarch Lysanias, while recounting events of the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. These circumstances have given to Strauss and others an opportunity for accusing the evangelist of confusion and error, but we shall see that this accusation rests on a groundless assumption.
(a.) What Josephus says of the Lysanias who was contemporary with Antony and Cleopatra (i.e., who lived sixty years before the time referred to by Luke) is, that he succeeded his father Ptolemy, the son of Mennleus, in the government of Chalcis, under Mt. Lebanon (War, 1:13,1; Ant. 14:7, 4), and that he was put to death at the instance of Cleopatra (Ant. 15:4,1), who seems to have received a good part of his territory. It is to be observed that Abila is not specified here at all, and that Lysanias is not called tetrarch.
(b.) What Josephus says of Abila and the tetrarchy in the reigns of Caligula and Claudius (i.e., about twenty years after the time mentioned in Luke's Gospel) is, that the former emperor promised the "tetrarchy of Lysanias" to Agrippa (Ant. 18:6,10), and that the latter actually gave to him "Abila of Lysanias" and the territory near Lebanon (Ant. 19:5, 1; comp. War, 2:12, 8).
Amid the obscurity which surrounds this name, several conjectures have been indulged in, which we will here notice.
1. According to Eusebius (whom others have followed, such as Bede and Adrichomius; see Corn. a Lapid. in Luke 3:1), Lysanias was a son of Herod the Great. This opinion (the untenableness of which is shown by Valesius, on Eusebius, Hist. Esccles. 1:9, and by Scaliger, Animadver. on Euseb. Chron. page 178) has no other foundation than the fact that the evangelist mentions Lysanias with Herod Antipas and Philip.
2. To the older commentators, such as Casaubon (On Baronius, Ann. 31, Numbers 4), Scaliger (loc. cit.), and others (see Corn. a Lap. and Grotius, ad loc.), this difference of dates presented no difficulty. Allowing historical credit to Luke (on which subject see Dr. Mill, Pantheistic Princip. part 2, page 16 sq.), no less than to Josephus, they at once concluded that two different princes of the same name, and possibly of the same family, were referred to by the two writers. (See also Kuinol, On Luke 3:1; Krebsius, Observ. page 110-113; and Robinson, Biblioth. Sacr. 5:81).
3. This reasonable solution, however, was unsatisfactory to the restless critics of Germany. Strauss and others (whose names are mentioned by Bleek, Synopt. Erkl. 1:156, and Meyer, Komment. 2:289) charge the evangelist with "a gross chronological error;" a charge which they found on the assumption that the Lysanias of Chalcis mentioned by Josephus is, identical with the Lysanias of Abilene, whom Luke mentions. This assumption is supported by a hypothesis which is incapable of proof, namely, that Abilene, being contiguous to Chalcis, was united to the latter under the rule of Lysanias, the son of Ptolemy. It must. however, be borne in mind that Josephus nowhere speaks of Abilene in connection with this Lysanias; nor, indeed, does he mention it at all until many years after the notice by Luke. He calls Antony's victim simply ruler of Chalcis. Moreover, it is of importance to observe that the tetrarchical division of Palestine and neighboring districts was not made until after the death of Herod the Great; so that, in his haste to inculpate the evangelist, Strauss in effect, attributes to the historian, whom he invidiously opposes to Luke as a better authority, an amount of inaccurate statement which, if true, would destroy all reliance on his history; for we have already seen that Josephus more than once speaks of a "tetrarchy of Lysanias," whereas there were no "tetrarchies" until some thirty years after the death of Ptolemy's son Lysanias. It is, therefore, a juster criticism to conclude (against Strauss, and with the earlier commentators) that in such passages as we have quoted above, wherein the historian speaks of "Abila of Lysanias" and "the tetrarchy of Lysanias," that a later Lysanias is certainly meant: and that Josephus is not only accurate himself, but a voucher also for the veracity of Luke. But there is yet stronger evidence to be found in Josephus of the untenableness of Strauss's objection and theory. In his Jewish War (2:12, 8) the historian tells us that the emperor Claudius "removed Agrippa [the second] from Chalcis [the kingdom, be it remembered, of Strauss's Lysanias] to a greater kingdom, giving him in addition the kingdom of Lysanias" (ἐκ δὲ τῆς Χαλκίδος Ἀγρίππαν εἰς μείζονα βασιλείαν μετατίθησι ... προσέθηνκε δὲ τήν το Λυσανίου βασιλείαν ).
Ebrard exposes the absurdity of Strauss's argument by drawing from these words of Josephus the following conclusion-inevitable, indeed, on the terms of Strauss — that Agrippa was deprived of Chalcis, receiving in exchange a larger kingdom, and also Chalcis! (See Ebrard's Gospel Hist. [Clark], pages 145, 146 ) The effect of this reductio ad absurdum is well put by Dr. Lee (Inspiration [lst ed.], page 394, note], "Hence, therefore, Josephus does make mention of a later Lysanias [on the denial of which Strauss has founded his assault on Luke], and, by doing so, fully corroborates the fact of the evangelist's intimate acquaintance with the tangled details of Jewish history in his day." Many eminent writers have expressly accepted Ebrard's conclusion, including Meyer (loc. cit.) and Bleek (loc. cit.). Patritius concludes an elaborate examination of the entire case with the discovery that "the later Lysanias, whom Luke mentions, was known to Josephus also, and that, so far from any difficulty accruing out of Josephus to the evangelist's chronology,. as alleged by objectors to his veracity, the historian's statements rather confirm and strengthen it" (De Evangeliis, 3:42, 25). It is interesting, also, to remark that, if the sacred writer gains illustration from the Jewish historian in this matter, he also repays him the favor, by helping to clear up what would otherwise be unintelligible in his statements; for instance, when Josephus (Ant. 17:17, 4) mentions "Batanaea, with Trachonitis and Auranitis, and a certain part of what was called 'the house of Zenodorus, as paying a certain tribute to Philip" (σύν τινι μέρει οἴκου τοῦ Ζηνοδώρουλεγομένου ); and when it is remembered that "the house of Zenodorus" included other territory besides Abilene (comp. Ant. 15:10, 3, with War, 1:20, 4), we cannot but admit the force of the opinion advanced by Grotius (as quoted by Dr. Hudson, On the Antiq. 17:11, 4), that "when Josephus says some part of the house or possession of Zenodorus was allotted to Philip, he thereby declares that the larger part of it belonged to another. This other was Lysanias, whom Luke mentions" (see also Krebsius, Observat. page 112).
4. It is not irrelevant to state that other writers besides Strauss and his party have held the identity of Luke's Lysanias with Josephus's son of Ptolemy, and have also believed that Josephus mentioned but one Lysanias. But (unlike Strauss) they resorted to a great shift rather than assail the veracity of the evangelist. Valesius (on Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiastes 1:10), and, more recently, Paulus (Comment. ad loc.), suggested an alteration of Luke's text, either by an erasure of τετραρχαῦντος after Ἀβιληνῆς, or retaining the participle and making it agree with Φιλίππου as its subject (getting rid of Λυσανίου as a leading word by reducing it to a mere genitive of designation by its transposition with τῆς — q.d. τῆς Δυσανίου Ἀβιληνῆς τετραρχοῦντος ), as if Philip had been called by the evangelist "tetrarch of Ituroea, Trachonitis, and the Abilene of Lysanias." This expedient, however, of saving Luke's veracity by the mutilation of his words is untenable, not having any support from MS. authority.
5. Still others think it probable that the Lysanias mentioned by Josephus in the second instance is actually the prince referred to by Luke. Thus, instead of a contradiction, we obtain from the Jewish historian a confirmation of the evangelist; and the argument becomes very decisive if, as some think, Abilene is to be excluded from the territory mentioned in the story which has reference to Cleopatra.
In conclusion, it is worth adding, that in modern times a coin has been discovered bearing the inscription Λυσαᾷίου τετράρχου καί ἀρχιερέως, and Pococke also found an inscription on the remains of a Doric temple, called Nebi Abel, the ancient Abila, fifteen English miles from Damascus, which makes mention of Lysanias, tetrarch of Abileze. Both the coin and the inscription refer to a period subsequent to the death of Herod (Pococke's Description of the East, II, 1:115, 116; and Sestini, Lettere et Dissertationi numismatiche, 6:101, tab. 2, as quoted by Wieseler, Chronolog. Synops. page 183). Similarly, the geographer Ptolemy mentions an " Abila which bears the surname of Lysanias," ῎ Α῾βιλα έπικληθεῖσα Δυσαᾷίου (5:18). See Davidson's Introduct. to N.T. page 218. (See ABILENE).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Lysanias'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​l/lysanias.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.