A background study of Acts 24: 1-9
Paul’s enemies weaved a web of accusations against him with false self-assurances that their evidence prohibited all unweaving by Paul regardless of his defense (Acts 24: 1-9). To bolster their position, the Jewish authorities employed a prosecutor, Tertullus (Acts24: 1). Ancient court documents exist where both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer are hired by one or both parties. Hiring Tertullus as a prosecuter fits into the court room setting.
Tertullus demonstrated his judicial oratory skills in his accusations against Paul as recorded in the biblical text. Tertullus charged Paul with three allegations designed to not only seriously malign Paul’s character, but to ultimately destroy it. He accused Paul of being a “pest,” “a fellow who stirs up dissension among the Jews throughout the world,” and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazerenes (Acts 24: 5). Tertullus added that Paul attempted to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem before the Jewish authorities arrested him (24:6). The prosecutor posited another detail to his accusations: “Lysias the commander came along and with much violence took him out of our hands, ordering him to come before you (Acts 24: 7).” Tertullus’ culminated his accusations by saying that the Jews joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so (Acts 24: 9).
These verses possess an ancient rhetorical structure called Captatio Benevolentiae. Those who study ancient oral rhetoric provide insight into its purpose in court cases. This line of accusation sought to gain the judge’s emotional empathy towards the prosecutor’s position. The approach focused on the ethical quality of the speaker and/or his client as opposed to those of the accused. Tertullus intended to win the respect and good favor of Felix. Surprisingly, the defense could employe such a tactic as well. Most recorded court cases omitted the Captatio Benevolentiae part of the oral argument, yet Luke briefly records it for his readers.
Tertullus’ captitio benevolentiae boasted about the prefect’s administration and rule of Israel. Tertullus desired to gain Felix’s good side with flattery and by appealing to his ego. Felix served as prefect of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea for about 8 years (A.D. 52-59). When Paul stood before Felix, he had served about five years. Felix’s youth consisted of being a slave to Antonia, Emperor Claudius’ mother. So he served as the first freedman to rise to become a Roman procurator.
The Roman historian, Tacitus, depicted Felix’s leadership as cruel and full of lust. In another place, Tacitus claimed Felix stirred Jewish unrest by acts of “injudicious judiciary measures.” The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that Felix instructed his soldiers to locate and capture Jewish zealots. He ordered the soldiers to immediately execute the rebels, even with the use of crucifixion if need be. As unimaginable as it might be, Felix ordered the assassination of the Jewish High Priest, Jonathan.
Emperor Nero removed Felix from office in A.D. 59 after he made a fiasco of dealing with a Jewish uprising in Caesarea Maritima. An argument between the Jewish population in Caesarea and the Syrian inhabitants related to the Syrian’s citizenship status in the city. Rioting and street fighting erupted. On the day that the Jews won the riot, Felix came to the market-place. He threatened the Jews to return home. When the Jews stood their ground, Felix ordered his soldiers to attack the Jews. They killed many Jews and plundered their homes. This happened while Paul lived as a prisoner in Caesarea Maritima.
Tertullus’ presentation had a lawyerly sound to it. He expressed himself in a polite manner, stroked Felix’s ego and provided an atmosphere of authenticity for the proceedings about to take place – by giving a promise to be brief with the business at hand (Acts 24: 3-4).
Tertullus’ speech to Felix began with irony when viewed against Felix’s administration. Tertullus flattered Felix with an assertion that Felix had provided the nation with much peace (Acts 24:2).
Paradoxically the high priest, Ananias and the elders were obligated to support Felix. Why one might ask? The current high priest, Ananias, and two former high priests, Nebebaeus, the father of Ananias and Jonathan, who was high priest before Nedebaeus, along with the son of the former captain of the Temple urged Emperor Claudius to appoint Felix as the procurator during a visit to Rome. This appointment marked an extremely rare event since Felix was a freedman. Someone from the equestrian order of Roman society normally served this position. Therefore, this religious party was honor bound to support Felix.
A second reason this religious party found itself showing allegiance to Felix rested in his reversing a rebellion by an Egyptian prophet as mentioned by Claudius Lysias in Acts 21: 38 and recorded in other places by Josephus. Tertullus focused on the positive attributes of Felix as the restorer of law in the region. Tertullus’ spoke of a recent incident related to Felix’s rule. This choice serves his purpose well. Paul stood as a law breaker and a disturber of peace. Felix was most prepared to bring the lawbreaker to justice.
A third point has Tertullus refering to Felix’s reforms for the nation (Acts 24: 2). The reforms related to a change in the laws governing the local population. The phrase appeals to Felix capabilities as a law writer if it does nothing else. The event that captivated the Jewish delegation mentioned earlier to recommend Felix to his procuratorship came when the Jewish group knew that Emperor Claudius appointed Felix to assist a Quadratus to format the answer to a legal issue. Jonathan, the former high priest, made the formal request. Hence, it was through the ‘providence’ of Felix that he now serves them in this legal case against Paul. So, Tertullus explained that is through the peace and providence that the religious leaders can express thankfulness (Acts 24: 2).
The correct charge to bring against an opponent in these kinds of legal matters was sedition or agitation of the Jews in all the world. This is a timely charge to bring against Paul in light of the edict of Emperor Claudius and the early reign of Nero. Claudius penned a letter to the Egyptians outlining that he planned to pursue the Jewish agitators from Syria or Egypt that were part of those bringing a plague upon the whole world. Tertullus’ charge against the apostle resembles a political accusation of the same kind. Acts 18:2 indicates that Claudius handled agitators in Rome by expulsing them from Rome. The Roman historian, Seutonius says that the Jews were “persistently rioting at the instigation of Chrestus.” Tertullus’ charge may represent very contemporary language if the words of Claudius’ edict had reached Jerusalem. Related to the charge of the Egyptian in Acts 18:2, Paul stood in a very serious position. Paul is accused of being “a pest, a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24: 5).” This activity may be well known to Felix. Additionally, Tertullus said that Paul tried to desecrate the temple.
The question may be asked, “Why did Luke spend so much time with these charges against Paul?” Perhaps Luke seizes the opportunity to show that Paul is not part of this world-wide attack against Rome as alleged and demonstrated by his actions in Jerusalem. Luke must answer these serious charges that Paul had maliciously disrupted the Pax Romana. This captatio benevolentiae may have accomplished its aim by getting the attention and empathy of both Felix and Rome should Paul ever stand before the Emperor. The weaved web clings tenaciously to its prey. Can Paul unravel the web? We will review Paul’s response next week
 Tacitus, Annals, 12.54
 Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.5 (160-165).
 Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.13.7 (270).
 Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, 2. 261-3.
One thought on “A Weaved Web of Accusation”
Wonderful article that truly enriches the Biblical context. Can’t wait for installment 2!!!!