A Geography Question and other questions about Phillip and the Eunuch

Today we were considering the story of Phillip in Acts 8. I had several questions I wanted to posse; but, this evening, as I was rereading the chapter, I have to ask just where was Phillip when the Spirit told him to take the Desert Road to Gaza?

Comments

  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    Well, Jerusalem probably.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    edited April 26
    I'm not so sure about that. The passage says: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza". Were Phillip in Jerusalem, would not the Spirit have told him to go south (sou-west actually) along the desert road to Gaza? What was said suggests to me that Phillip was somewhere to the west of Jerusalem from where he would go more or less south to the desert road.
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    Yes I'm aware. But my little map also suggests that the road might start off by heading southwards. And I'm looking at the earlier narrative as well, which suggests they were all in Jerusalem and then different people went on different excursions.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Certainly that's what my map says as well - it goes south, then off south-westerly. Phillip may well have been in Jerusalem but then headed more or less westerly direction on his way to the coast. Then he received his message and headed south. In the meantime, the Ethiopian had headed south through Bethlehem to Hebron before turning off towards the coast. That way would have seen him reaching Gaza, but Phillip met him before then. This seems a way consistent with Acts. There are other possibilities of course.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Thinking a bit further - give the choice, why would the Ethiopian have taken the desert road rather than across to the coast and turning left?
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    Thinking a bit further - give the choice, why would the Ethiopian have taken the desert road rather than across to the coast and turning left?

    You could just as easily ask why, in your scenario, Phillip was heading west to the coast.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    In the first part of Acts 8, we hear that Phillip is in Samaria doing some wonderful mission work. Peter and John come up to check out what is happening. Then Peter and John return to Jerusalem. It says nothing about Phillip returning to Jerusalem. It appears poor Phil has to hike a long way to meet up with the Eunuch.

    Second question about Phillip. What rank is he, or what office does he hold?
  • Gramps49 wrote: »
    Second question about Phillip. What rank is he, or what office does he hold?
    He's one of the Seven appointed to serve the Church (Acts 6) in ensuring the fair distribution of food to widows, so that the Twelve can concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. Sometimes known as Deacons, though quite how that would match to modern understandings of offices and ranks is an interesting question in it's own right. Certainly, Steven who held the same position did a lot more than just wait on tables ... and Philip also seems to be doing more than that.

  • There's one advantage to driving on a desert road as opposed to near the coast, and that's less people. So, less traffic, presumably fewer robbers, and possibly a quicker passage. The man is a foreign dignitary and possibly looks it. Nice clothes say "money"; foreign appearance signals "might not speak local language, so less likely to bear witness against you".
  • Yet, he's happy for some complete stranger to come up to the carriage (or, his escort is). And, then willing to invite this man up to talk. Didn't he get the memo about picking up hitchhikers?
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited April 26
    Well, it's not like this guy is going to have a gun. If he pulls a knife, he's still one guy against at least two, quite likely more. What robber would be fool enough to take on those odds?
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    Second question about Phillip. What rank is he, or what office does he hold?
    He's one of the Seven appointed to serve the Church (Acts 6) in ensuring the fair distribution of food to widows, so that the Twelve can concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. Sometimes known as Deacons, though quite how that would match to modern understandings of offices and ranks is an interesting question in it's own right. Certainly, Steven who held the same position did a lot more than just wait on tables ... and Philip also seems to be doing more than that.

    It does seem that the difference between an Apostle and a Deacon was not that differentiated. Stephen and Phillip seem to be good evangelists.

    I also find that while we like to focus on the Eunuch, one other person that is mentioned by name is Simon the Sorcerer. Why do we hear his name but not the Eunuch's name? What is the significance of Simon's conversion?
  • Simon is all about Simon. No doubt he had a pointy hat sprinkled with stars and a giant sign out front, "See the Amazing Simon!" So of course his name is everywhere. It's basically all he has. And so of course he gets referenced that way.

    As for the treasurer, he has the substance that Simon lacks. He holds an important job in the Ethiopian government; he is clearly well-educated and willing to put in the hard work to understand Scripture; he doesn't think he himself is all that, and he doesn't expect anyone else to, either. And so naturally, when Philip recounts the story, he mentioned the identifiers that are most telling for the mission of Christ, rather than a mere name: The man is an Ethiopian (= geographical mission reach), he is a eunuch (= high court official with quite a bit of power), and specifically he is a treasurer. The name doesn't matter. Simon's name doesn't matter, but what else can you call him--the would-be magician?
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    orfeo wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    Thinking a bit further - give the choice, why would the Ethiopian have taken the desert road rather than across to the coast and turning left?

    You could just as easily ask why, in your scenario, Phillip was heading west to the coast.

    Indeed - all these gaps in our knowledge.
    There's one advantage to driving on a desert road as opposed to near the coast, and that's less people. So, less traffic, presumably fewer robbers, and possibly a quicker passage. The man is a foreign dignitary and possibly looks it. Nice clothes say "money"; foreign appearance signals "might not speak local language, so less likely to bear witness against you".

    A good suggestion.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited April 27
    Simon did end up funding some of the missionary work that was happening in Samaria. I also think it is important to note that it was taboo for Jews to consult sorcerers:
    Deuteronomy18:10-11: “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer.”

    So, to have witnessed to a sorcerer who ends up converting would have been quite a scandal to the Jewish community. Too bad we tend to gloss over this story.

    As to the Eunuch, at least he did not have one thing of substance Simon had (or, for that matter, most other males). I don't happen to think that qualified him for the high office he did have, though. Rather, I think there is more to keeping the Eunuch unnamed.

    I do wonder if this might be a parallel story to the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon.
  • I assume you're talking about a penis and testes, though in an oddly non-specific way. If I am wrong, correct me.
    It was precisely the lack of these parts that signaled the man's high estate. Eunuchs were made so to prevent them from ever harboring hopes of founding a dynasty (and therefore being tempted to do away with the current occupant of the throne). It was thought that a childless man would be less inclined to risk disloyalty. Thus eunuchry becomes a likely indicator of high rank. The fact that this man's state is foregrounded in the text suggests that the writer intends us to pay attention to his rank, as well as to the fact that Christianity provides a means of full participation in the community of God--unlike Judaism, which placed limits on those so disabled.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited April 27
    The indeterminacy always intrigues me here. The lonely road, the encounter and sudden sighting of the pool of water. The Ethiopian might have been a congenital eunuch, born with some deformity and that might have created problems if he was a gentile convert to Judaism but an advantage (for reasons given by @Lamb Chopped) in the court ruled by a queen. He might have been castrated in order to be able to gain certain offices. He wasn't, as far as I can gather, from contemporary Ethiopia but from the kingdom of Meroe in northern Sudan. A black or African man, a eunuch, a trusted official and a pilgrim of some kind. He may have been a recent convert trying to read aloud the Septuagint as his driver slowly drove the chariot away from Jerusalem. A pious Jew, even though Judaism would have found an adult male eunuch a problematic convert.

    Nothing in his differences of origin, race, emasculation, or religion prevents him from immediate baptism by Philip who has been directed to this particular route in order to meet the Ethiopian.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited April 27
    I've always felt that if I read this chapter in Acts primarily or only from the perspective of Philip as evangelist, I miss the 'nowhereness' of this landscape and lonely road: the Ethiopian is a person who does not belong and is travelling without direction, trying to make sense of a text he can read but not understand. He is far from home and might be seen as an 'alien in the household of God'. If he had been born hermaphrodite or intersex, without testes, or castrated at puberty, he would have developed secondary characteristics often held in contempt as 'unmanly', effeminate or homosexual, somebody who has no fixed gender identity. His inability to father children would have barred him from marriage and family life. He would have been trusted primarily as a sexless worker, someone without heirs, sons or daughters or family responsibilities, committed to managing the treasury at court. He has made some kind of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, perhaps as an African migrant, a foreigner, and come away without any insight into the text he is reading as he travels.

    If the Ethiopian eunuch was going back and forth puzzling the writings of Isaiah, another text might have been as pertinent, in Isaiah 56:4-5.

    To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant —
    to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.

  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    edited April 27
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    In the first part of Acts 8, we hear that Phillip is in Samaria doing some wonderful mission work.

    Somehow I missed that bit. But then why were you even asking the question?

  • MaryLouise wrote: »
    I've always felt that if I read this chapter in Acts primarily or only from the perspective of Philip as evangelist, I miss the 'nowhereness' of this landscape and lonely road: the Ethiopian is a person who does not belong and is travelling without direction, trying to make sense of a text he can read but not understand. He is far from home and might be seen as an 'alien in the household of God'. If he had been born hermaphrodite or intersex, without testes, or castrated at puberty, he would have developed secondary characteristics often held in contempt as 'unmanly', effeminate or homosexual, somebody who has no fixed gender identity. His inability to father children would have barred him from marriage and family life. He would have been trusted primarily as a sexless worker, someone without heirs, sons or daughters or family responsibilities, committed to managing the treasury at court. He has made some kind of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, perhaps as an African migrant, a foreigner, and come away without any insight into the text he is reading as he travels.

    If the Ethiopian eunuch was going back and forth puzzling the writings of Isaiah, another text might have been as pertinent, in Isaiah 56:4-5.

    To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant —
    to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.

    I really like this.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    @Lamb Chopped I am not questioning how a eunuch could have a high rank in the Ethiopian court. I was hoping you would see why the man would have been cut off from the assembly of the Lord--ie the Temple, Isaiah 56 notwithstanding.

    Deuteronomy 23.1 reads:
    No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

    But to get back to Isaiah 56, the last verse, God promises eunuchs God will give them an everlasting name that will last forever, the fact that this eunuch has no name is quite significant.

    What do you think Luke is getting at with this story?

    Still unanswered Is there a connection between the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon and the Eunuch visiting Jerusalem?
  • It appears to me that you are trying to steer the class to a particular answer. I would prefer it if you would just say what you want to say.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    I've always felt that if I read this chapter in Acts primarily or only from the perspective of Philip as evangelist, I miss the 'nowhereness' of this landscape and lonely road: the Ethiopian is a person who does not belong and is travelling without direction, trying to make sense of a text he can read but not understand. He is far from home and might be seen as an 'alien in the household of God'. If he had been born hermaphrodite or intersex, without testes, or castrated at puberty, he would have developed secondary characteristics often held in contempt as 'unmanly', effeminate or homosexual, somebody who has no fixed gender identity. His inability to father children would have barred him from marriage and family life. He would have been trusted primarily as a sexless worker, someone without heirs, sons or daughters or family responsibilities, committed to managing the treasury at court. He has made some kind of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, perhaps as an African migrant, a foreigner, and come away without any insight into the text he is reading as he travels.

    If the Ethiopian eunuch was going back and forth puzzling the writings of Isaiah, another text might have been as pertinent, in Isaiah 56:4-5.

    To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant —
    to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.

    I really like this.
    Me too.

  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    I have asked some questions that I still do not know the answer to, like why was Phillip was told by the Spirit to go on the Desert Road when he was in Samaria, Why not one of the other deacons or apostles that were in Jerusalem? Why was the sorcerer mentioned by name, yet the eunuch wasn't, especially when Isaiah said God would make sure the names of eunuchs would be remembered forever. Besides that, why did Dt 23.1 have such precedence when it seems Isaiah 56 seems to overturn the prohibition in Dt 23.1 And is there a connection between the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon's court and this eunuch's visit to Jerusalem? I do not have answers to these questions.

    However, I do think, overall, the story does have an overall message of imperfect people being welcomed into the new assembly of God. The details, though, are intriguing to me.
  • It's interesting that the two stories we have about Philip involve the conversion and acceptance of someone that would never have been fully accepted within Judaism - Simon who is both a Samaritan (who could be accepted into Judaism by conversion the same as any other Gentile) and a sorcerer (who wouldn't be accepted under the Law), and this Eunuch (who presumably couldn't have got further into the Temple than the outer courts with the women and Gentiles, no matter how devout he was). It all serves to reinforce the message Luke seems to be portraying of the gospel message reaching outwards - not just geographically (Jerusalem, Samaria, ends of the earth) but in scope accepting those who would be unacceptable in Judaism. It takes until Acts 11, after Peter has had his vision and preached to Cornelius, that the church in Jerusalem finally gets the message that the gospel is for more than Jews - Luke is making a point (or, so it seems to me) that this was the case even before that realisation. Immediately after that realisation in Acts 11, Luke introduces Saul (Paul) as taking the gospel beyond Judea into the heart of the Greek world and ultimately to the heart of the Roman world (where Luke ends his story).
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Going to the question about the eunuch finding water on the desert road. Having lived in the desert for a good chunk of my days, I realize there can indeed be places where the water can come forth. But, I am curious, just how much water was there? Are there similar stories in the books of the First Covenant? And is this an example of "decision" theology?

    Note to Alan: You make some good points. I have overlooked the point that Simeon was a Samaritan.
  • There are relatively large bodies of water in the area. A bit to the east of the probable route of that road, closer to the Dead Sea, is Ein Gedi. The Beersheba River is south of the likely route. The highlands receive a relatively large amount of rain, which create aquifers that create oases at various locations to the east in the direction of Gaza, and also seasonal wadis.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    There are relatively large bodies of water in the area. A bit to the east of the probable route of that road, closer to the Dead Sea, is Ein Gedi. The Beersheba River is south of the likely route. The highlands receive a relatively large amount of rain, which create aquifers that create oases at various locations to the east in the direction of Gaza, and also seasonal wadis.

    I can see that. I am not all that familiar with the area.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The pleasures of getting up early and sitting with the NetBible as I mull over Acts 8! Any inaccuracies and wilder speculations are mine.

    The baptism of the Ethiopian is a passage framed by the miraculous, aspects we often gloss over or try to read too literally. The 'angel of the Lord' appears to Philip and directs him to a road in the desert. Not to a specific destination or to a specific community, in say Gaza. This is really a case where the journey not the destination matters.

    Philip is being called to an encounter with someone who may in time evangelise the distant Ethiopian community. As Philip is on the desert road, the Spirit again prompts him to go and join the Ethiopian in his chariot. After going down into the water with this new believer and baptising him, Philip finds himself caught up out of the desert and transported to the city of Azotus where he continues evangelising to all he meets until he reaches Caesarea.

    The 'place' where Philip finds himself on that road could be read as a liminal or threshold sacred space -- the non-specific 'vagueness' of it means that geographic directions or topography don't help us locate it within a realistic historical frame but as a rite of passage with the temporal suspended, the empty road where suddenly there is a baptismal pool and the Presence of the Risen Christ revealed in a Christological passage from Isaiah. I'm thinking about what @Alan Cresswell said about the gospel message 'reaching outward, not just geographically' or in terms of number of converts (multitudes) but to reach those who would have been excluded or forbidden from belonging. The new reality of the Kingdom and God's power keeps breaking in on earth in unexpected ways.

    The baptised Ethiopian comes up out of the water renewed and transformed, no longer who he was before. He sees at once that Philip has vanished. The Ethiopian, though, is not alone because he is ablaze with conviction and goes on his way rejoicing. This in many African traditions marks the beginning of the Ethiopian church. Some early commentators believe the baptised Ethiopian to be Simon of Niger or Simon the Black, who will join the church in Jerusalem. Irenaeus calls him Simon Bachos the Eunuch and he is esteemed as such in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    edited April 29
    There is also a tradition that Philip himself went to Ethiopia years later and met up (by chance and very joyfully) with The Eunuch who was preaching and organising Christianity there with enthusiasm and some success

    [Can't remember where I read or heard that, but it must have been reliable or I'd have let it go. Sorry.]
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Oh that sounds altogether plausible to me, @Galilit!
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    MaryLouise - many thanks for you long post, with so much to think upon.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Thank you, GeeD -- I was thinking too of my own experiences travelling through featureless desert places in the Namib, Kalahari and Sahara at different times in my life. They are disorienting because the usual landmarks of tall trees or a shoreline or buildings are not there, just the rippling dunes or empty sandy plains under cloudless skies. No cattle grazing or flocks of birds or wild animals to be seen. No landmarks, no distractions, and I can understand why early church mothers and fathers would go out from cities into this emptiness. In terms of 'facing down temptations,' you are alone with yourself and your inept wrestling with scriptures or the meaning of life. A place where anything might happen.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I can see that in the Outback here
  • Though, remember the Judean desert is rock and mountain rather than endless sand dunes - so lots of landmarks which will be very different from the dune fields of the Namib or Sahara (and, even in those larger deserts dune fields only make up a fraction of the area ... exposed hard rock is much more common)
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Yes, @Alan Cresswell I wasn't implying the landscapes you and others have identified and described here are similar to the deserts of Africa in a literal, physical sense.
  • The various mystics, prophets, and others who have sought out the deserts have been seeking solitude away from distractions, maybe somewhere where they're having to rely on God to provide (they may head out without knowing if they'll find a cave or other form of shelter from the sun, whether they'll find a water source and with limited food). That spiritual state depends on these being harsh, unforgiving, lonely places far more than whether the desert itself is hard rock or ever changing dune field.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    So much to consider.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    The pleasures of getting up early and sitting with the NetBible as I mull over Acts 8! Any inaccuracies and wilder speculations are mine.

    The baptism of the Ethiopian is a passage framed by the miraculous, aspects we often gloss over or try to read too literally. The 'angel of the Lord' appears to Philip and directs him to a road in the desert. Not to a specific destination or to a specific community, in say Gaza. This is really a case where the journey not the destination matters.

    Philip is being called to an encounter with someone who may in time evangelise the distant Ethiopian community. As Philip is on the desert road, the Spirit again prompts him to go and join the Ethiopian in his chariot. After going down into the water with this new believer and baptising him, Philip finds himself caught up out of the desert and transported to the city of Azotus where he continues evangelising to all he meets until he reaches Caesarea.

    The 'place' where Philip finds himself on that road could be read as a liminal or threshold sacred space -- the non-specific 'vagueness' of it means that geographic directions or topography don't help us locate it within a realistic historical frame but as a rite of passage with the temporal suspended, the empty road where suddenly there is a baptismal pool and the Presence of the Risen Christ revealed in a Christological passage from Isaiah. I'm thinking about what @Alan Cresswell said about the gospel message 'reaching outward, not just geographically' or in terms of number of converts (multitudes) but to reach those who would have been excluded or forbidden from belonging. The new reality of the Kingdom and God's power keeps breaking in on earth in unexpected ways.

    The baptised Ethiopian comes up out of the water renewed and transformed, no longer who he was before. He sees at once that Philip has vanished. The Ethiopian, though, is not alone because he is ablaze with conviction and goes on his way rejoicing. This in many African traditions marks the beginning of the Ethiopian church. Some early commentators believe the baptised Ethiopian to be Simon of Niger or Simon the Black, who will join the church in Jerusalem. Irenaeus calls him Simon Bachos the Eunuch and he is esteemed as such in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition.

    Very interesting read! I particularly like the ‘liminal space’ idea.
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