🔼The name Ananias in the Bible
There are three men with the name Ananias mentioned in the Bible:
- The husband of Sapphira (Acts 5:1). Ananias and Sapphira were part of the very early church, but tried to lie to the Holy Spirit about the price for which they sold some land. They had kept some of the money for themselves, to which they obviously had every right, but told Peter that they had given all of it to the church. That lie cost them both their lives (Acts 5:9).
- Ananias of Damascus, whom Jesus sent to meet Saul of Tarshish (later the apostle Paul). Saul had set out to arrest Christians in Damascus, which was the northern most city of the Decapolis, and probably the farthest extend of Saul's jurisdiction. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in such a way that it blinded Saul. His men helped him reach a house in Damascus, namely the house of a man named Judas on Straight Street, where he sat fasting for three days, until Ananias showed up. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, he regained his eyesight (Acts 9:10, 22:12).
- The high priest at the time of Paul's trial in Jerusalem (Acts 23:2).
At the time of Christ and Paul, the high priesthood was mostly a secular and economic affair, much as the papacy was in the middle ages, and mostly designed to direct money from the people towards the ruling elite. That was the part of Judaism which agreed most with the Romans, and it was also the part of it which was mostly opposed by the Jewish masses, and which ultimately sparked the great revolt of 66 AD. Josephus makes mention of a high priest Ananias (for several reasons probably not the same as the one who heard Paul) who was greatly loved by the citizens (that's the Roman nobility) because he was a "great hoarder up of money" (Ant.20.9.2).
The high priest Ananias who heard Paul, ordered him struck on the mouth after his first statement, and Paul reminded him in no small terms that this violated the Law (Deuteronomy 25:2). When someone reminded Paul that he shouldn't speak ill of the high priest, Paul submitted that he didn't know that he was either a high priest or a ruler of the people. This was obviously still part of Paul's previous observation that Ananias was a white-washed wall because (1) everybody knew who the high priest was, and (2) in case someone didn't know, the high priest came with an elaborate uniform. Paul basically stated that he didn't recognize the authority of the Sanhedrin.
Josephus speaks of this high priest as Ananias son of Nebedeu(s), and tells us that he had been instated by Herod (Ant.5.2), and at some point in his career was sent in chains to Claudius Caesar to explain what he might have had to do with a Samaritan uprising, which was caused by the plundering of Samaritan towns by Jews (6.2).
🔼Etymology of the name Ananias
The name Ananias is most probably a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew name, but the question is which one? Commentators usually link the Greek name Ananias with the Hebrew name Hananiah (חנניה), which would make perfect sense, but leave out that the Septuagint transliterates the Hebrew name Ananiah (ענניה) exactly the same as Hananiah, namely as Ανανια.
But judging from the comparable popularity of the names Hananiah and Ananias and the relatively unpopular name Ananiah, it's probably a pretty safe bet to assume that Ananias is the same as Hananiah. And the name Hananiah consists of two part, the final end being יה (Yah), which is an abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH, or Yahweh. The first part of Hananiah comes from the verb חנן (hanan), meaning to be gracious:
If Ananias is indeed the same as Hananiah, it means Yahweh Has Been Gracious (NOBSE Study Bible Name List and BDB Theological Dictionary), or Graciously Given Of The Lord (Alfred Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names).