Section 9: Supposable Miracle VIII.—Magical Books Burnt by the Owners.—Acts 19:19-20
Such as it was, the supposable miracle last mentioned was not without its supposed fruit: destruction of property, such as it was—destruction of property, and to an amount sufficiently wonderful for the satisfaction of any ordinary appetite for wonders. But let us see the text. It follows in the verse 19, next after that, in which mention is made, as in the last preceding section, of what was done by the "many who believed."
As to the sum total, nothing can be more precise: as to the items, could the list of them be but produced, this would be indeed a treasure. As to the denomination magical, given in the title of this section to those books, styled books "of curious arts,"—in the text, short is the only apology that need be made for it. Of the number of those curious arts could not, most assuredly, have been any of the arts included at present under the name of fine arts; of the character of the arts here designated by the appellation of curious, a sufficient indication is afforded by the story, by which the mention of them is, as above, immediately preceded. They were the arts, by which effects were undertaken to be produced, such as the self-constituted Apostle undertook to produce by so much more simple means. How vast soever were the collection, what would be the value of it,—the whole taken together,—when so much more than could be done by everything which it professed to teach, could be done by about a score or a dozen words, on the single condition, that the lips by which they were uttered were properly commissioned lips, not to speak of the still more simple operation of the touch of a used handkerchief?
Of the state of art and science in the wake of the great temple of Diana, the representation here given is of itself no small curiosity. Books of curious arts—all of them arts of imposture—books, employed, all of them, in teaching the most secret of all secrets—books of this description, so well known to all men, as to bear a market-price! a market-price, so well known to all men, as if it were the price of bread and butcher's meat: and, in the single town of Ephesus, these books so numerous,—such the multitude or the value,—or rather the multitude as well as value, of them taken in the aggregate, that the price, that had been given for such of them as were thus given up, and which are only part, and, as it should seem by the word many, not the larger part, of the whole number, of those, which, at that same place, were at that same time in existence,—was, upon summing up, found actually to amount, so we are required to believe, to that vast sum.
Of the aggregate, of the prices that had been paid, we are told, for this smaller part of the aggregate number of the books, then and there existing on this single subject,—inadequate, indeed, would our conception be of it were we to regard it as not exceeding the value of the whole library collected by King George the Third, and given by his successor to the English part of his subjects. Data, though not for numeration, yet sufficient for conception, are by no means wanting. To consult Arbuthnot, or any successor of his, would be mere illusion; in so far as the value of money is unknown, prices in money serve but to deceive. History—and that the most appropriate history—has furnished us with much surer grounds. Thirty pieces of silver, Matt. 28:3-10, was the purchase-money of the field, called the potters' field, bought for a burying-ground, with the money received and returned by the traitor, Judas, as the reward for his treachery. Suppose it no more than half an acre. What, in English money of the present day, would be the value of half an acre of land in or close by a closely built metropolis? A hundred pounds would, assuredly, be a very moderate allowance. Multiply the hundred pounds by fifty thousand, you have five millions; divide the five millions by thirty, you have, on the above supposition, 166,666l. and odd for the value of these books. Look to the English translation, look to the Greek original, the pieces of silver are the same.