Lecture 22: Acts Chapters 23 - 26
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Paul is put on trial in front of the Jewish council. The Romans protect Paul from an assassination plot send him to Caesarea for trial in front of Felix the Roman governer. Paul was held in prison for two years, and was tried before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. Agrippa was sympathetic to Paul but sent him to Rome to continue his trial because Paul had appealed to Caesar.
Lecture 22: Acts Chapters 23-26
A. Paul before the Sanhedrin
1. Paul Calls the Priest a White Washed Wall
Chapter 22:30 to chapter 23:10 we read about Paul coming before the Sanhedrin. The tribune, Claudius Lysias, calls the Sanhedrin to meet about Paul. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be meeting anyway; the Sanhedrin members probably met regularly. What the tribune is asking for is an assessment, their official expertise before he can send Paul on to the governor. The views of the crowd were confusing and so now he was going to get the official view. But this also proved to be confusing as well. Ananias was the high priest in the year 47 to about 58 AD. He was an abusive high priest according to Josephus and even the Talmud mentions the high priest using clubs to beat people, etc. He certainly wasn’t well liked by the revolutionaries, so much so that he was the first assassinated by them. So when Paul says that God will strike you white washed wall; that was carried out by the revolutionaries. He orders a blow to Paul’s check, which was a severe insult. It was normally not meant to knock a person’s teeth out. It was a punishable offence under the law and you could be fined for it. For many ancient legal collections, this was placed alongside the idea of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. When someone strikes you on the cheek they had to pay a fine. It was a violation of legal ethics to order someone to be struck, just as it was in John 18 when Jesus was struck. Jesus answered, and so Paul answered saying, you whitewashed wall, alluding to Ezekiel 13:10-15 where corruption was concealed or covered up by white wash. People responded, how dare you address the high priest that way; to which Paul responds that he didn’t realize that he was talking to the high priest. A big debate among scholars is whether Paul really didn’t know that he was the high priest or whether Paul replied sarcastically or ironically. Some people say that Paul was near sighted and that was why Paul didn’t recognize him to be the high priest, but this isn’t a very good argument. Paul said that he was sick when he was in Galatia (Galatians 4:13). He also says that you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me; so there must have been something wrong with Paul’s eyes. But this was a familiar figure of speech as it appears elsewhere in literature. It was a way of people showing affection by being willing to sacrifice, deeply, for another person.
It didn’t mean that there was something wrong with Paul’s eyes. The argument wouldn’t be necessary anyway because the high priest would not have been wearing his regalia which were used for his priestly duties. This would not have been the high priest that Paul knew, but because of his official role in the meeting, probably because of his seating, I suspect that Paul did recognize that this was the high priest. Therefore, I suspect that Paul was probably being ironic or sarcastic. But Paul does answer according to the law; it was hypocritical of them to say, how dare you answer God’s high priest this way when the high priest wasn’t acting according to the law in having struck Paul. Paul is quoting the law or rather quoting Scripture and speaking as someone who does uphold the law as opposed to the high priest. Paul also quotes Scripture when he says that he is sorry, for Scripture says not to speak evil of the leader to your people. The Roman governor would appoint the high priest at will and depose a high priest at will. At this period Agrippa II could do that, son of Agrippa I who died in Acts 12. So Paul quotes Scripture by not recognizing the current high priest, perhaps deliberately not recognizing him; he may also be appealing to some conservative Jewish sensitivity as well. The high priest wasn’t exactly a puppet of Rome, but had to work within certain boundaries. Paul is advancing his athos; we mentioned pathos earlier which is appealing to emotion. Athos was an appeal to character, important in rhetoric. You find is everywhere in ancient speeches; somebody who is making an argument about their character. It is like saying that he is the kind of person that would do that. Well, Paul is establishing his athos, his character, by quoting Scripture. He can quote Scripture and he cares about justice. So far, however, he isn’t gaining any ground in trying to show his identification with his Jewish culture and the fact that he was raised that way.
2. Paul Declares that He is a Son of a Pharisee
But finally in verse 6, he says, ‘brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees;’ he shouted out in the council, and I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead! This was a Pharisaic distinction compared to the Sadducees. Paul did hold distinctive beliefs of the Pharisees; even more than that, he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Here, calling himself a son of Pharisees could mean that he was a disciple of the Pharisaic movement or simply that his entire family had come to Jerusalem with his father being a Pharisee. But the Pharisees were the minority in the Sanhedrin and probably very sensitive in being discriminated against at this point. Remember that it was Gamaliel that defended Peter and the other disciples earlier. It is the Pharisees who here, defend Paul. They defend his revelation; well, perhaps an angel or spirit did speak to him, but what did that mean? Sometimes, people believed that after a person died, they became an angel. The Pharisees don’t have to agree with him that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but they do believe in the resurrection. We know from Acts 15:5 that there were some Pharisees who were believers. We also know that the movement is very respectable among the Pharisees at this point because the Christians keep the Torah and observe many of the traditions of the Pharisees. So this generation of the Pharisees seemed to be more open. Some may have thought that at least Jesus was a Spirit or angel and perhaps he did speak to Paul. In Acts 22, Paul was saying that Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him. Well, a conflict erupts in the Sanhedrin; the Pharisees are pulling on one side and Sadducees are pulling on the other side. This was a nasty way of killing people back then. In this case, the tribune heard and understands what had been spoken. He hasn’t brought the troops into the chamber which Josephus says that the place they were meeting was very close by. We think we know where the place was. The tribune is listening to what the people are saying; he saw how the high priest ordered Paul to be struck and listening to the Greek being spoken. The Sadducees often spoke Greek as we see from many of their tomb inscriptions. Claudius Lysias could see that this was a religious issue as he follows what is being said.
3. Assassins Want to Kill Paul
Paul was really smart because he knew what would stand up in a Roman court of law. He has had experience with this, so he makes sure of the charge that comes from the Sanhedrin is a religious issue. He may not have counted on being pulled apart by the two factions in the court, however. At this point Lysias intervenes with troops and pulls Paul out of the meeting. So, could the Sanhedrin have acted like this? There were fights like this in the Senate floor in Rome; Josephus tells us that the Sanhedrin members actually threw stones at one another. This wasn’t a one off occasion of conflict in the Sanhedrin. In the midst of this happening, there is a plot to kill Paul. We see this in verses 12-15. Paul is not one of the assassins as had earlier been thought in 21:38, but other people now want to assassinate Paul. They swear an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul. Some have wondered what actually happened to them since they didn’t succeed in killing Paul. Well, they could have starved to death or died of dehydration, but most likely they didn’t. Back then, you could get a rabbi or someone schooled in the law to release you from your oath under certain circumstances. These were young men and youth was often associated with zeal and passion of different sorts. They would be physically able to strike which was also associated with nationalistic zeal. Josephus speaks especially of the younger people wanting to be involved in the fighting. Even young aristocrats sympathized with the revolutionaries. Their plans were to contact some people in the Sanhedrin and get them to bring Paul again to the Sanhedrin so that these assassins would be able to kill Paul. They would have had sympathizers in the Sanhedrin who would have indeed helped them. That is a concern later on in chapter 25 where Paul was to be brought to Jerusalem. Luke probably assumed such a thing based on what happened earlier. There was indeed information going out from the Sanhedrin; Josephus reports one in his own case where some people were sent to kill him or bring him back as a prisoner. We see in verse 16 that Paul’s nephew is also young and come to tell Paul about it. Obviously, his nephew had heard about this plan and so he comes to warn him.
In the Fortress of Antonio where Paul was kept to the probable site of the Sanhedrin was only about 1,250 feet or about 400 meters. The route there is a fairly narrow route on one side of the temple. So that meant that the Romans couldn’t depend on their numbers if there was a swift attack on the troop column. The assassins were willing to be martyred in these circumstances. The forty of so them aren’t going to outnumber the soldiers as a whole but they would in this particular place walking along this narrow route. Meanwhile, they could just act as if they were standing around in the temple area like other people were doing. So, his nephew hears about this and makes his way to where Paul is being held in the fortress. It was probably in the late afternoon or early evening. Guards could have allowed visitors; often they charged bribes for that. That is why Felix had to give orders later on to the centurion in charge of Paul to let his friends visit him; bribes were a very standard practice for guards. Paul, being a Roman citizen is already getting special treatment since he has a centurion as one of the guards. Normally this would only happen if you were very high up or somebody important. So, Lysias hears the story from Paul’s nephew. Paul tells his nephew not to tell anyone except Claudius Lysias. He knows that he can trust Lysias at this point and if word got around that the nephew was involved, the nephew would have been in trouble. So, he goes and tells the tribune. He takes the nephew by the hand showing that the boy is welcomed and shouldn’t be afraid.
4. Paul is Rushed Off to Felix in Caesarea
At this point the tribune can’t refuse the Sanhedrin’s request as it would have been an insult. So, he doesn’t refuse their request, he preempts it. He decides to send Paul directly to the governor Felix along with a letter that explains the circumstances. It doesn’t explain everything though. There was a plot formed against Paul but he doesn’t implicate the Sanhedrin as the letter would eventually become part of public record. So, the tribune doesn’t make it look like that he refused the request or accuses them of anything, he just sends Paul out unexpectedly. He sends a number of troops with Paul. The cohort numbered around five or six hundred men and Lysias sends both cavalry and infantry which consisted of a large part of his cohort. This is right after the Pentecost festival; the cohort was actually increased during these festivals. So perhaps some of the troops needed to go back anyway; this was a substantial number of soldiers with Paul, larger than normally expected. Another point, night ambushes had been increasing in the Judean hills; Josephus blames Felix’s misadministration for this. Because of the corruption, ambushes were increasing during this period; so the more troops the less liken of an ambush. This was better than fighting as the more people you lost in a fight, the more trouble the tribune could be in. If there are no losses, the better the tribune would look. So the troops are in a forced overnight march to Tiberius Claudius Felix in Caesarea. We are not entirely sure of the Felix’s middle name; he was in office starting around 52 to 59 AD. The official letters of Felix would become part of a legal file. That may be why Luke can quote it precisely as Luke would have had access to this letter when they were in Caesarea. Luke would also have had summary transcripts of all the speeches that are given in Acts 24-26. These speeches were given by Paul and his accusers, particularly Tertullus in Acts 24:1. Luke may have actually been there for the one in Acts 26. Felix is addressed as most excellent Felix; that was an appropriate title for somebody in the Roman Knight Class, just below the senatorial class. You could address higher people the same way also. But Felix was actually a freedman, a very powerful freedman. His younger brother, also a freed slave in Rome, was Marcus Antonius Pallas also had a lot of power. So, Felix is governor and therefore gets the title, Most Excellent.
In the way that Claudius Lysias explains what happened, it makes it look as if he rescued Paul deliberately. And Paul wasn’t going to contradict that as a person doesn’t undermine their benefactor. So, the troops are sent with Paul and with this letter in a forced overnight march. Some people would say that Antipatrus, a city about 55 km northwest of Jerusalem and about halfway to Caesarea was too far to march overnight. There are objectives to this and in regards to how many troops were sent. Luke was there in the Fortress; he only catches up with Paul later on in Caesarea. However, it doesn’t seem to be impossible in regards to troops and for the overnight forced march, Roman soldiers did this regularly. They were supposed to exercise daily, but that had periodic forced marches of twenty miles and sometimes even thirty miles which is forty eight kilometers. Sometimes they were made to do that all night long. So, as mentioned, Antipatris was fifty to seventy kilometers away, but it was downhill. Presumably, they could have done this if they had to. So, they reach Antipatris sometime in the morning; the infantry was supposed to turn around and return to the Fortress of Antonio before people realize that they were missing. It will be daylight and most of the ambushes took place during the night. The cavalry continued on their way to Caesarea. We know that the roads that were taken from the Roman milestones; they deliver Paul and also the letter. Such a letter was usually read aloud; Governor Felix asked from what province Paul came from; Paul replies Tarsus of Cilicia. So Felix decides to handle the case himself as he could have referred it to somebody else. During this time, Cilicia was governed from Syria.
Claudius Lysias, most likely was not a freedman; he purchased his citizenship. However, like Governor Felix, he was not the normal kind of person for this office. Felix was not of the normal class from which governors were chosen and Claudius Lysias wasn’t from the normal group from which tribunes were chosen. Normally tribunes were aristocratic Romans. They may have had some level of connection there as centurions became friends to tribunes sometimes. So, Felix is more inclined to believe his tribune than he is to believe the high priest. Several days later the high priest comes up to Caesarea; Paul is obviously summoned but the accusers speak first. They get Tertullus to speak for them; given his name, he may have been a Roman citizen. So getting Tertullus to speak for them would have been a smart move for the priests as they want to give Paul as much trouble as possible. We only get a summary of his speech as that is what you get in the court documents.
B. Paul before Governor Felix
1. Paul Makes His Defense
There are some rhetorical techniques that appear in chapter 24:10-21. In verse 21, he praises the judge which was customary in an opening. Tertullus goes into some detail in flattering Felix, more than you would expect. So in Tertullus’ speech, he says that Felix had established peace for the nation and is known for his good governance. This was actually false, but it does set the theme of suppressing sedition which was the case with Paul. Paul praises the judging more sparingly than Tertullus and more accurate praise. Felix actually knew about the Way, the Christian movement. His wife was Drusilla who was the sister of Agrippa II and Bernice was the daughter of Agrippa I. So he was married to a Jewish princess. He knew a lot about what was going on in Judea as he had been there for a long time. So, he knew something about the Way and that they were not a politically subversive movement. In any case, he praises the judge in verse 10 and then in verse 11 he narrates the events leading up to the case. This was standard in defense and other speeches given back then. You would start with compliments and exhortation and then you would move to a narrative of the events. This was used in other genres as well. In the narration of the events, he said that he had come just twelve days before which could easily be verified. This makes it clear that he was coming for the festival of Pentecost. This emphasizes his piety and fits into the character argument of his athos that is he was coming to serve God. In verse 12, it says that he wasn’t arguing with anyone or stirring up the crowd in the temple courts or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. Paul says that he wasn’t here long enough to do anything since causing a riot was a capital offense. In verse 13, he said that they can’t prove what they are saying. In a capital case, the accusers carried the burden of proof. In Acts 25, Luke says that they asserted many things that they couldn’t approve. They could have collected evidence from Ephesus and other places where riots had occurred where Paul had been, but they still would have had to prove that Paul started the riots.
Paul explains that he worshipped God according to the Way. In ancient legal rhetoric, people often would confess things that weren’t crimes. This gains him credibility for other things. He is doing other things but they are not illegal. This is the same charge that Paul maneuvered from the Sanhedrin and Claudius Lysias was a witness to. This was just a religious issue and makes sure that this is going to make it into the court record. So the only thing that they have against him is that they disagree with him on certain issues which can’t constitute a capital offense under Roman law. This also emphasizes his piety; they are objecting to the way he worships God, but he is, worshipping God. He believes in the resurrection; again, that is already in the court documents. Ananias, the Sadducees and others are against the resurrection, but they are the ones who hold the minority view. The resurrection is a main stream Jewish belief and Felix being married to Drusilla would know that. In verse 16, he says that his conscience is clear; he said this back in chapter 23 and the high priest ordered him to be struck. This is a statement of athos. It is like saying that he hadn’t been convicted of a crime before this; I have acted with piety before God. These kinds of things were used in a defense in court. In verse 17, we learn more about his athos, most about his character as Paul explains that he had come to bring gifts for the poor and to present offerings which Paul was doing when they found him in the temple, ritually purified, without a crowd or a disturbance. This is where we learn about Paul’s collection in Acts. Luke doesn’t say that this was only for the believers, but this is an honorable thing and nobody is going to complain about this. There were many witnesses to this. Defendants sometimes argued that they were on trial for a benefaction of their accuser which made the accuser to look even worse. We saw that back in chapter 4 where they said that if we are on trial for a benefaction under this man who stands before you whole; this makes the accusers look very bad.
In verses 18 and 19, Paul says that he was attacked in the temple; he is not the one who started the riot, somebody else did. Temples were supposed to be a place of sanctuary; a person should be protected in a place like the temple. He goes on to say that his accusers should be here if they have anything to say. He breaks off a sentence; there is an ellipse here where he doesn’t finish his sentence. It was also common to implicate them by implying or insinuating it, rather than stating explicitly. Luke’s narrative confirms that it was his accusers who started the riot and so no wonder they didn’t show up and Paul seems to imply this. So Luke’s narrative shows that Paul can easily return charges to his accusers. When the accusers don’t appear, the case can be thrown out of court. And the accusers who started the problems can be tried for the offense of wasting the Judges time. They could be charged for abandoning a case. So, the accusers aren’t there; the high priests have taken up the prosecution, but they don’t have any witnesses. They had probably already returned to Ephesus. Well, you often left your clenching arguments until the end. He demonstrates the only charge from the Sanhedrin was religiously related. He didn’t desecrate the temple, he didn’t cause sedition, but it was because he preached the resurrection. By any standard of roman justice, Paul’s argument was so clear cut that this case should have been thrown out of court and Paul should have been released immediately. Paul continued to be held in custody because of political reasons. His accusers were of a very high status. If they would have had an even higher status and Paul had no status, Felix would have handed him over to be executed. But Paul also had some status, not only having Roman citizenship but in fact being a leader in the Christian movement.
2. Felix Keeps Paul in Custody
Paul talks about righteousness and judgement. Felix gets nervous when Paul talks about righteousness, self-control and judgment. Felix had married three different princesses in succession and the current wife was Drusilla. She was the daughter of King Agrippa I and the sister of Agrippa II. Felix actually seduced her away from her previous husband, using a Cyprus Jewish magician. That didn’t go too well in her family or with the king. He had a lack of self-control and also righteousness and Drusilla had the same thing. They had gotten together on very immoral terms. The reason he kept Paul in custody, Luke says in verse 26; he just wanted a bribe. This is the way Josephus describes the Roman governors in this period and location. So, Felix keeps Paul in comfortable accommodations in the palace there in Caesarea where the hearing took place. Felix invites Paul to speak to them, the way Herod Antipas often listened to John speaking to him in Mark 6. He leaves Paul in custody in order to do the Jews a favor, for Felix needed every favor that he could get. Felix was replaced in verse 27 by Porcius Festus; Felix was recalled on charges of corruption that was lodged against him by the high priest. His predecessor had also been recalled on the charges of corruption. We know Felix was corrupt; not only did he want a bribe from Paul, he bribed one high priest to kill another high priest. He left Paul’s case pending so he could get at least some favor from the Judean authorities in Jerusalem. Governors were sometimes convicted of corruption, but his brother Pallas, though his was a freedman and no longer in good with the same officials. Pallas was still powerful and apparently got Felix off from any conviction. So the new governor was now Festus, he was one of the fairest governors. He is one that Josephus actually portrays fairly nicely. He was a no-nonsense sort of person; you can see this in how quickly he gets down to business, once he gets into office. He got along great with Agrippa and Bernice, but he was short-lived in his office. He seemed to have died in office after a couple of years.
Paul is brought before Festus as people are normally tried in Caesarea where the governor lives. He had just gotten there and doesn’t know anything about the plot against Paul. Paul has lost the advantage of what happened earlier. The case is being started again, new with the new governor. Much of this chapter starting with verse 13 talks about the visit of Agrippa Il and Bernice to Festus. We know from other sources that Agrippa and Bernice often visited officials and we know that Festus and Agrippa had a good relationship. They sometimes sided together against the Jerusalem priests. Often they kept peace for Rome; Agrippa and Bernice were known for that. They tried to stop the revolt and Rome was satisfied with them. After the revolt, Agrippa remained in power in his region. Apparently they were still alive at the time Josephus wrote his works during the 90s of the 1st century. They were undoubtedly alive at the time of Luke’s writings as well. Bernice had a very sad life, a very tragic life at this point. She and her sister both were both mocked and ridiculed when their father died and there was a kind of protest among the Syrian auxiliary stationed in Caesarea. Later one, she is married to a king but the marriage breaks up. She is now back, staying with her brother Agrippa. There were people who said that they had an incestuous relationship. That seems to appear only in unreliable ancient sources, so it is probably false. But she was an object of slander. During the siege of Jerusalem, she and Vestation, the Roman general there had a relationship; Vestation returns to Rome to become emperor. Titus is left of finish the Job of capturing Jerusalem and as a result of this, Bernice and Titus had an affair of which he had promised Bernice that she would be his wife if he became the emperor. This didn’t happen as he died after a couple of years. When Bernice went to Rome expecting to become his wife, Josephus tells us that nobody would let her into the palace. The empire would not tolerate a Jewish woman as the empress.
C. Paul before Festus and Agrippa
In any case, Agrippa and Bernice were highly respected people. Agrippa was someone that Festus could really rely on as he didn’t trust the chief priests. Agrippa had Hellenistic education, just Festus and Agrippa was a Roman Citizen just like Festus was as well as being Jewish. He was the kind of Jewish person that a Roman governor would like to listen to. After he talks about Paul, not knowing what to do, Agrippa wants to hear him. For this scene, who are Luke’s witnesses? Perhaps there were servants in the household; this wasn’t something that was in the court records. How did Luke know what conversation took place? We understand by the genre of ancient historiography; they would give you the information they had, but they were responsible for providing the complete picture given what people knew of the evidence. The next day when Festus introduces the case, he asks Agrippa for his advice. Some of the people in Jerusalem say that this man shouldn’t live but what should I do? Paul, again, defends himself speaking eloquently before Festus, Agrippa and Bernice, giving a Hellenistic Jewish speech before Agrippa. He knows that Agrippa is the one he has to speak to and persuade. Paul is citing Jesus in ways that reflect the language of Euripides giving his whole account and what Jesus had said to him. He is no longer trying to defend himself the way he was back in chapter 24 for his life as he is trying to preach the Gospel. Jesus had said in Luke 21 that you will be brought before kings and governors for my sake and the Spirit will give you what you should say in that hour. In Acts 9:15 when Paul was called, you would bring the Gospel before gentiles and before kings for Jesus’ name sake. So, here is Agrippa II, not a king like his father was, but he is king over a smaller realm. At some point, Festus interrupts as Paul is talking about the resurrection here in chapter 26. Paul! Your learning has driven you insane! It was sort of half a compliment; he recognized that Paul was very educated, and this would appeal to him. People often thought that philosophers acted insane because they didn’t live according to the values of the world. Philosophers often thought that the rest of the world was insane.
The way Paul was speaking passionately, similar to the language back in Acts 2 and in 1 Corinthians 14 if you speak in tongue people will think that you are insane as well as often people thought the prophets were insane for the way they spoke as in 2 Kings 9. Paul is speaking in this prophetic kind of way, he is speaking in a way that Festus couldn’t relate to. It was just like how Pilate viewed Jesus especially in John 18 where Jesus speaks of being a king but his kingdom isn’t of this world; it is a kingdom about truth. This sounded to Pilate like a Cynic Philosopher, a harmless apolitical sage, a kingdom that isn’t any threat to Rome. It wasn’t a completely bad thing in terms of Paul innocence but he certainly doesn’t believe what Paul is saying about Jesus. Paul then appeals directly to Agrippa; King Agrippa, you know the truth of what I am talking about. This matter hasn’t been hidden in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets; Paul has been basing this on the prophets. He puts King Agrippa in a corner for if he says that he does believe, but instead he replies with a question, in such a short time, you are trying to make me into a Christian? Paul’s responds, whether in a short time or long time, yes, I want to convert you. Paul says that he wishes that everybody here had what I have, except for these chains. This is a nice ending on pathos. They dismiss the court hearing at that point and they gather where they have a private scene saying that this person hasn’t done anything worthy of death; in fact, he could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar. Back in chapter 25, he appealed to Caesar so he wouldn’t have to have the case in Jerusalem because Festus wanted to put it in Jerusalem to provide a favor to the Jews. Normally, you could only appeal after you had been convicted so this was unusually with Paul appealing before a conviction. If they send him to Caesar, they no longer have to deal with it and we are not in trouble with the Jerusalem elite. It solves things political for Festus easily. How is this private scene known? It is presumably reconstructed by the fact that Agrippa helped Festus formulate the charge. They couldn’t send him to Caesar without a charge and an explanation of what the case is about. With Agrippa’s advice, this letter can be sent as it is a legal document. Paul and Luke both would know what such a legal document would contain or at least they could find out from the oral instructions given to the centurion that is accompanying Paul.
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