LYSANIAS (lī-sā'nĭ-ăs, Gr. Lysanias). Tetrarch of Abilene mentioned by Luke (3:1). The tetrarchy is a small region in Lebanon. There is no satisfactory explanation of the inclusion of this obscure non-Jewish ruler in the dating list. Epigraphical evidence frees the historian from the old allegation that he confused the tetrarch with an earlier ruler.

LYSANIAS lĭ sā’ nĭ əs (Λυσανίας, G3384). Named by Luke as “tetrarch of Abilene” at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (Luke 3:1), prob. in a.d. 26. He is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT.

Josephus referred to a Lysanias who in 40 b.c. succeeded his father Ptolemy to the throne of Chalcis; he was put to death by Mark Anthony in 36 b.c. at the instigation of Cleopatra, upon whom the dominion was bestowed (Antiq. XV. iv. 1; XIV. xiii. 3; I. xiii. 1). Josephus also recorded that among the regions assigned by Agrippa I was the “tetrarchy of Lysanias” the emperors Caligula and Claudius to Herod (Antiq. XVIII. vi. 10; XIX. v. 1). Some scholars hold that there was no one named Lysanias who later ruled in those parts and that Luke therefore was guilty of a gross chronological blunder in naming Lysanias as a ruler in a.d. 26. Such an assumption seems very improbable in view of Luke’s established general accuracy.

It seems a necessary assumption that Josephus referred to two different men named Lysanias. Lysanias, the son of Ptolemy, bore the title of king, given him by Anthony (Dion Cassius, xlix, 32); but Josephus, in agreement with Luke, also mentioned a tetrarch. Their territory was not the same. The first, with his capital at Chalcis, ruled over a considerable area which included Abila, but was not called Abilene. Claudius bestowed upon Agrippa II “the tetrarchy of Lysanias” but took from him Chalcis (Antiq. xx. vii. 1; War II. xii. 8), Josephus thus expressly distinguished Chalcis from the tetrarchy of Lysanias.

An inscr. (CIG, 4521) discovered at Abila established that there was a later “Lysanias the tetrarch.” The inscr. related to the dedication of a temple contains the words, “on behalf of the salvation of the Lords Imperial and their whole household” by “Nymphaies, a freedman of Lysanias, the tetrarch.” The mention of “the Lords Imperial” may refer to the joint rule of Augustus and Tiberius (Leaney), placing the inscr. as late as a.d. 11, or, more prob., to Tiberius and his mother Julia (Ramsay), thus giving a time between a.d. 14 and 29. Clearly this establishes a tetrarch Lysanias at the very time that Luke mentions.

Why Luke should mention the tetrarch Lysanias while omitting the ruler of Damascus is not clear.


A. Plummer, “Luke,” ICC (1901), 84; W. M. Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the NT (1915), 297-300; R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Mark’s and St. Luke’s Gospels (1934), 590; A. T. Robertson, Luke the Historian in the Light of Research (1934), 167, 168; J. M. Creed, Gospel According to St. Luke (1957), 307-309; A. R. Leaney, “Luke,” Harper’s NT Commentaries (1958), 48-50.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Mentioned in Lu 3:1 as tetrarch of Abilene in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and thus fixing the date of the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness at about 26 or 28 AD. A Lysanias is mentioned by Josephus as having ruled over Chalcis and Abilene, and as having been slain by Mark Antony at the instigation of Cleopatra. As this happened about 36 BC, Luke has been charged with inaccuracy. Inscriptions, however, corroborate the view that the Lysanias of Luke was probably a descendant of the Lysanias mentioned by Josephus (compare Schurer, H J the Priestly Code (P), div I, volume II, App. 1, p. 338).