Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Multitudes Amazed and Perplexed

Multitudes Amazed and Perplexed

A group of Christians gathered in one large house in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover. Pentecost was the common name of the Feast of Harvest, one of three major celebrations commanded of the Jews by God (Exodus 23:14-16).

Pentecost was a celebration of the first harvest of crops, a thankful feast in honor of God's providence.

It was during the celebration of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit completely overwhelmed that group of Christians:

"And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:4

The Christians rushed out to find people with whom they could share the wonderful news, only to find themselves surrounded by a crowd of foreigners, Jews from many different countries and many different languages, also celebrating Pentecost. To everyone's surprise, the Holy Spirit allowed the words of praise and worship and exhortation to be completely and clearly understood by everyone, no matter the language.

"Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.'" Acts 2:5-11

It's difficult for modern readers to visualize the different parts of the world mentioned by Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts. Many of the names of countries and people groups have changed. I'm not a keen geography or political history buff, but I did wonder from where all these people came that were amazed and perplexed by a powerful display of God's Holy Spirit.

My Geographica, The Complete Illustrated Atlas of the World, is a great resource. I enjoy browsing the maps and descriptions of every country in the world. But few of Luke's references are found in the Geographica's index. I had to turn to our culture's Source of All Knowledge:

Google's map resources gave me a base map that stretched over all of the mid-East, Africa, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Europe.

Bible Explorer 4.0 gave me a good description of each province or region mentioned by Luke. Most of the references were from Smith's Bible Dictionary, included free with Bible Explorer. provided a ton of maps and charts. I downloaded several map images and used GIMP to superimpose, resize, and add transparency in order to visualize where the ancient regions were in relation to modern political boundaries.

Here are the results of combining all my resources:

The people from Parthia lived near the mountains that separated the Persian desert from the desert of Kharesm. The region was south of Hyrcania, east of Media, and north of Sagartia. In modern terms, it was in Iran, near the northern border, near the Caspian Sea.

Media was northwest of Persia, south and southwest of the Caspian Sea, east of Armenia and Assyria, west of the great salt desert of Iran.

The area called Elam was most likely south of Assyria and east of Persia. Herodotus called it Cissia (iii. 91, v. 49, etc.). Geographers termed it Susis or Susiana. The capital of Elam was Susa. This country was originally peopled by descendents of Shem.

Mesopotamia, "between-the-rivers", is the entire country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The biblical region of Mesopotamia was limited to just the northwestern section of this land.

Judea was a district of the Roman Empire, west of the Jordan and south of Samaria. This region is now in the center of Israel.

Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Phamphylia are all contained within the country now known as Turkey.

Egypt was Egypt as Egypt is now.

Libya during biblical times lay alongside the Mediterranean Sea, north of Egypt.

Cyrene was also north of Egypt, just west of Libya, now the modern city of Tripoli.

Rome was Rome as Rome is now.

The island country of Crete was, and is, in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece.

Arabia originally included all of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Luke's list of Pentecost Pilgrims to Jerusalem described quite a large area. The base map from showed a scale of 500 miles to the inch. Perhaps 2500 miles from Rome to Arabia?

Probably all of the Jewish foreigners all spoke basic Greek or Latin, but their native languages had to have been all much different.

And God's Holy Spirit was more than able to bridge the language barrier.

Link to high resolution animated gif image (610K)