ANANIAS (Gr. Ἀνανίας; Heb. חָנָן ‘Jahweh is gracious’)

ANANIAS (Gr. Ἀνανίας; Heb. חָנָן ‘Jahweh is gracious’)

A very common name in later Jewish times, corresponding to Hananiah or Hanani of the OT. We find it occurring frequently in the post-exilic writings and particularly in the Apocrypha. In the history of the Apostolic Church, we meet with three persons bearing this name.

  1. An early convert to Christianity, best known as the husband of Sapphira (Ac 5:1–5). Along with his wife, Ananias was carried into the early Church on the wave of enthusiasm which began on the day of Pentecost, but they were utterly devoid of any understanding or appreciation of the new religion they professed. In this period of early zeal many of the Christians sold their lands and handed the proceeds to the community of believers (cf. Barnabas, Community of Goods). Ananias and his wife, wishing to share in the approbation accorded to such acts of generosity, sold their land and handed part of the price to the community, pretending that they had sacrificed all. When St. Peter rebuked the male offender for his duplicity, Ananias fell down dead, and was carried out for burial; his wife also came in and was overtaken by the same fate. The narrative does not indicate that the two were punished because they had in any way violated a rule of communism which they had professed to accept. The words of St. Peter, ‘Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own, and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?’ (Ac 5:4) at once dispose of any view of the incident which would regard communism as compulsory in the early Church. The sin for which Ananias and Sapphira were punished is described as ‘lying unto God’ (v. 4). It was, says Knowling, ‘much more than mere hypocrisy, much more than fraud, pride or greed—hateful as these sins are—the power and presence of the Holy Spirit had been manifested in the Church, and Ananias had sinned not only against human brotherhood, but against the Divine light and leading which had made that brotherhood possible.… The action of Ananias and Sapphira was hypocrisy of the worst kind,’ an attempt to deceive not only men but God Himself. Most critics admit the historicity of the incident (e.g. Baur, Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, Spitta), while it is undoubted that in the narrative the cause of death is traced to the will and intention of St. Peter, and cannot be regarded as a chance occurrence or the effect of a sudden shock brought about by the discovery of their guilt. Much has been written on the need in the infant Church of such a solemn warning against a type of hypocrisy which, had it become prevalent, would have rendered the existence of the Christian community impossible.

Literature.—F. C. Baur, Paulus, Leipzig, 1866, i. 28ff.; A. Neander, Planting of Christianity, ed. Bohn, i. [1880] 27ff.; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostol. Age, i. [1894] 24; R. J. Knowling, EGT, ‘Acts,’ 1900, in loco; Comm. or Meyer, ZeIler, Holtzmann, Spitta.

  1. A Christian disciple who dwelt in Damascus, and to whom Christ appeared in a vision telling him to go to Saul of Tarsus, who was praying and had Seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him that he might receive his sight (Ac 9:10–17). On hearing this command, Ananias, Knowing the reputation of Saul as a persecutor, expressed reluctance, but was assured that the persecutor was a chosen messenger of Christ to bear His name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Thus encouraged, Ananias went and laid his hands on Saul, who received his sight and was baptized. In his speech before the multitude at Jerusalem (Ac 22:12–16) St. Paul describes Ananias as ‘devout according to the law,’ and as one ‘to whom witness was borne by all that dwelt’ at Damascus.

Later tradition has much to say regarding Ananias. He is represented as one of the ‘Seventy,’ and it is possible he may have been a personal disciple of Jesus. He is also described as bishop of Damascus, and reported to have met a violent death, slain by the sword of Pôl, the general of Aretas, according to one authority (Book of the Bee, by Solomon of Basra [1222], ch. xxix., ed. Wallis Budge), or, according to another (see Acta Sanctorum, Jan. 25 [new ed. p. 227]), stoned to death after undergoing torture at the hand of Lucian, prefect of Damascus. His name stands in the Roman and Armenian Martyrologies, and he is commemorated in the Abyssinian Calendar.

  1. The high priest who accused St. Paul before Claudius Lysias in Jerusalem (Ac 23:1ff.), and who afterwards appeared among the Apostle’s enemies before Felix at Cæsarea (Ac 24:1ff.). He is not to be identified or confused with Annas (q.v.) of Ac 4:6, Lk 3:2, or Jn 18:13. He was the son of Nedebæus, and is regarded by Schürer (GJV4 ii. 272) as the twenty-first high priest in the Roman-Herodian period. He retained his office, to which he had been appointed by Herod of Chalcis, for about twelve years (a.d. 47–59). During the time of his administration, bitter quarrels broke out between the Jews and the Samaritans, which led to a massacre of some Galilæans by Samaritans and to the plundering of Samaritan villages by Jews. Ananias was summoned to Rome and tried for complicity in these disturbance, but, at the instigation of Agrippa the younger, was restored to office. He ruled in Jerusalem with all the arbitrariness of an Oriental despot, and his violence and rapacity are noted by Josephus (Ant. xx. ix. 2), while his personal wealth made him a man of consideration even after he was deprived of his office. He did not scruple to make frequent use of assassins to carry out his policy in Jerusalem, and his Roman sympathies made him an object of intense hatred to the national party. When the war broke out in a.d. 66, he was dragged from his place of concealment in an aqueduct and murdered by the assassins whom he had used as tools in the days of his power (Josephus, BJ ii. xvii. 9).

Literature.—Josephus, Ant. xx. ix. 2, BJ ii. xvii. 9; E. Schürer, GJV4 ii. [1907] 256, 272, 274.

F. Boyd.

EGT Expositor’s Greek Testament.

q.v. quod vide, which see.

GJV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).

BJ Bellum Judaicum (Josephus).

Boyd, W. F. (1916-1918). Ananias. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (2 Vols.) (J. Hastings, Ed.) (1:54-55). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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