Parthians, Libyans, Egyptians and others: Acts of the Apostles on legends of Judean migration (early second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Parthians, Libyans, Egyptians and others: Acts of the Apostles on legends of Judean migration (early second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 11, 2024,

Author: Anonymous author, Acts of the Apostles 2:1-13 (link to Greek text and full LEB translation)

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): The Acts of the Apostles is a text imagining the adventures and travails of the earliest followers of Jesus, immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as they travel throughout the Roman empire attempting to draw others toward “the way” (e.g. 9:2) While Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are obviously central for the protagonists of Acts (including Peter and Paul),“the way” does not refer to Christianity as a social phenomenon or religion, since the term “Christian” itself is barely circulating when Acts was written. In fact, what Acts is most interested in portraying is the complexities, possibilities, and disappointments of life in the Judean diaspora, as connections between various Judean groups, and between Judeans and others across the empire, are forged and fail.

Chapter two of the text is exemplary in this fashion. This episode imagines Judeans, who live in different parts of the empire and who speak different languages, all gathering in Jerusalem when suddenly they find themselves caught up in a miraculous act of translation. They hear in their own languages about the wonderful deeds of the Judean god. What’s more, this fantasy of togetherness takes place on a Judean harvest festival day. Over the course of the story, diasporic relations are never so idyllic again. It is interesting to note that the author of this writing speaks in a way that seems to acknowledge the multiplicity of ethnic identifications, as the Judeans (“devout Judeans from every people”) gathered here are simultaneously identified with peoples from their current place of settlement, as Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and others.


When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and a tongue sat upon each of them. They were also all filled with the holy spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them to speak.

Now in Jerusalem there were living devout Judeans from every people (ethnos) under heaven. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was confused, because each one heard them speaking in the their own native languages. They were amazed and marvelled, asking “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and those living in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia (or: Cappadocia), Pontos and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Judeans and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things of God.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking them and saying, “They are full of new wine.”


Source of the translation: Translation by Maia Kotrosits

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *