Sceva appears in the New Testament, in Acts 19:14, referred to as a Jewish chief priest or high priest. Also described, depending on the translation, as a vagabond or itinerant priest, Sceva was the father of seven sons living in the city of Ephesus during the time of Paul's missionary work. Easton's Bible Dictionary places Sceva in Levi's lineage. Some scholars suggest that Sceva, or his sons, may have been using the title of high priest to garner legitimacy as magicians, or that they may have been Jewish priests participating in one of the Ephesian cults.
Ephesus, a city in ancient Turkey, served as a vacation and pilgrimage spot for ancient travelers. It was also a busy trade center, a city where people of many faiths intermingled. Though the city was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, other gods were also worshipped in Ephesus. The city supported a brisk business in magical goods, spiritual consultations and supernatural healings, including exorcisms. In the ancient world, Hebrew names for God were considered powerful magical spells, and were used by non-Jews in magical workings.
The Biblical story of Sceva and his sons
According to the Bible, the Apostle Paul had great success in Ephesus doing God's work, using Jesus' name for healings and exorcisms. The seven sons of the itinerant Jewish chief priest Sceva, hearing of Paul's success, attempted to cast out a demon from a man, calling it out in the names of both Paul and Jesus. The demon responded that he knew Jesus and knew Paul, then asked the sons who they were and by what authority they acted. The demon then left the man's body and beat the sons who ran from the house naked.
The Aftermath in Ephesus
According to the Bible, the news of the Sceva's sons and their botched exorcism spread through the Jewish and Greek communities in Ephesus, amplifying the power of the Christian God, Jesus, and causing many to honor him. People publicly confessed their sins and burned their magical books. It is recorded in Acts 19:19 that the cost of the books totaled 50,000 pieces of silver. The burning of these costly books was felt by Christians to magnify God's word and power.
Interpetations of the Story of Sceva
The story of Sceva and his sons is interpreted by Christians to show that one must truly believe in Jesus in order for efforts undertaken in his name to be effective. The story is also used by Christians to show why one should not to take God's name in vain. Additionally the story points out the Christian belief in differences between miracles performed in God's name and magic.
- Sceva. Dictionary.com. Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary.
- Acts 19:11-20, King James Version. Biblegateway.com
- A Dictionary of the Bible: Pleroma-Shimon, Vol4
- Hans Dieter Betz: Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, p.163
- Scott Schauf: Theology as History, History as Theology: Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19. p. 115-177
- Act 19:11-20, King James 21st Century
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