🔼The name Sceva: Summary
- Pragmatist, Handy Man, Sorcerer's Apprentice
- From the noun σκευος (skeuos), utensil or implement; gear, equipment.
🔼The name Sceva in the Bible
There's only one Sceva mentioned in the Bible, and he's a Jewish αρχιερευς (archiereus), or chief priest, whose unfortunate seven sons went around exorcizing people "in the name of the Jesus whom Paul preached" (Acts 19:14). And that went wrong, of course.
Sceva the high priest is almost certainly a literary device because we know the names of the high priests of that time and Sceva was not among them. Some commentators have proposed that Sceva might have been called a αρχιερευς (archiereus) because he descended from a priestly family (this function was hereditary, hence too the family name Cohen: Exodus 28:43; the author of Acts, namely Luke, was well aware of these priestly traditions and deliberately emphasized them: Luke 1:5-10, also see Acts 23:5), or perhaps because he functioned as the local alpha of the Jewish community at Ephesus (which was about 1000 kilometer away from the seat of the actual high priest in Jerusalem), or even because he used this title as "stage name", as some commentators have suggested. But these semantic acrobatics don't really satisfy. Sceva might represent the whole of the corrupt Templar enterprise (see our article on the name Annas) but that too seems unlikely, also because the Templar elite had recently condemned Jesus and would soon Paul, and anyone formally associated to the priestly elite would not publicly flirt with a rival sect (John 3:2, 7:13).
The number seven of his sons seems conveniently portentous, and may refer to any Biblical seven, from the seven arms of the Menorah, to the pillars of the house of wisdom (Proverbs 9:1), to the proverbial seven hills of Rome (Revelation 17:9). The name Sceva itself is conspicuously absent from secular records. Tacitus briefly mentions a relatively inconsequential Didius Sceva in relation to the burning of the Capitol in 69 AD, and Dio Cassius mentions an affair involving the famous first century BC orator Cicero and some murderous slave named Sceva, but that's about it.
Nobody knows the truth of it, and since everybody is guessing, we here at Abarim Publications would guess that Luke inserted the story of Sceva to emphasize the difference between practicing a skill in order to get good at it, and blindly repeating some inert ritual in the hope that it might stir up some spiritual help from somewhere. We guess that Sceva is an early manifestation of what later would evolve into the archetype of the Sorcerer's Apprentice: the dim servant of a wizard (a wise-ard; an old-world engineer), whose mastery of technology and science must have seemed miraculous to the servant, who in turn imagined that the power of his master resided in his mumblings and gestures. Then, when the master was absent, the servant donned his master's hat and robe, assumed his lofty title, and repeated whatever he had heard his master mumble and imitated his master's gestures as best he could.
This practice was wide-spread, because the Romans had discovered that a tribe's resistance was commonly seated in its wizards, and so they killed the real engineers and replaced them with charlatans who would deflate the confidence and self-respect of the population and keep them all submissive and malleable. Since our modern world is still wholly Roman and characterized by Romans norms and fashions, it's literally crawling with state-sanctioned pretenders, fakers and overly confident cadets. But what the cadets of our world rarely understand is that engineering magic isn't magic to engineers, and engineering isn't a matter of spells and magic wands but of instruments and carefully honed procedures. Likewise, the gospel and power of Jesus Christ aren't matters of vague spiritual forces but of information technology, science, social entropy, the fractal nature of the human mind, and the oneness of all things (see our article on πασχω, pascho for more on this).
In Colossians 2:18, Paul condemns the "worship of angels" that was apparently rampant in Colossae. And although Clinton E. Arnold wisely remarks that "we have absolutely no positive evidence of the presence of this kind of mysticism within the Judaism of Asia Minor" and "we find no groups of Jews worshipping angels in the same way that they worship Yahweh — while angels are prominent in Second Temple Jewish texts, Jews always stop short of offering praise to them or praying to them" (Sceva, Solomon and Shamanism, 2012), the word θρησκεια (threskia) doesn't really mean "worship" in the sentimental sense but rather describes the entire arsenal of rote rituals — spells, bells and whistles — that characterizes the outward appearance of a particular sect or religion. As Arnold continues to observe, the Jews did frequently evoke angels, specifically by name, to remedy specific curses and ailments: "The invocation of angels was a common way to conduct exorcisms in the Second Temple period and beyond."
Surrogates, deception and escape, like failure and sin, come in many varieties. Hitting the mark, having purpose, having always been being part of the Last Man Standing, even if that last man will take his stand a small eternity from now — that only comes in one very specific form (Job 19:25). Sceva & sons appear to have been of the school that held that any ailment could be cured by evoking the name of the responsible angel, which in turn means that they evoked Jesus like an angel, and that Jesus, like any angel, was expected to come running at their expertly beck and call. Sceva & sons, like the corporate apprentice of an absent apothecary, go through the stash, one pill at the time, until they find one that works. And as long as they sigh wisely and moanfully evoke the powers that be, they get away with their deception and collect their rewards. Many modern sons of Sceva have even managed to convince themselves that they are on to something.
🔼Etymology of the name Sceva
The name Sceva comes from the noun σκευος (skeuos), which describes any kind of portable utensil:
The noun σκευος (skeuos) describes any kind of utensil or moveable implement, or in plural: gear, outfit, equipment. It stems from a PIE root that means to carry out or perform. Derived noun σκευη (skeue) also means outfit, but mostly in the sense of clothing (or a ship's). Verb σκευαζω (skeuazo) means to prepare, furnish or make ready.
The name Sceva means Handy Man, Tinkerer, Whatever Works, or in modern terms: Sorcerer's Apprentice.