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Literature / Acts of the Apostles

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"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20a

The last historical work of the New Testament and The Bible, the Acts of the Apostles (often abbreviated as "Acts") tells the story of the early church spreading out of Judea and the challenges it encounters.

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While it was getting pretty good reception in the south and east, a convert named Paul goes on a mission to take the Good News west through Asia Minor, Greece and eventually, Rome.


Structure of the book:

  • Jesus ascends into heaven and the apostles choose Matthias as Judas' replacement (Acts chapter 1)
  • The Holy Spirit descends on Peter and the apostles, and the church is born (Acts chapter 2)
  • Peter heals a crippled man (Acts chapter 3)
  • The apostles testify before the Sanhedrin (Acts chapter 4)
  • Ananias and Sapphira die, and the apostles are arrested and freed (Acts chapter 5)
  • Seven are chosen to serve, and Stephen makes a bold witness before his death (Acts chapters 6 and 7)
  • Simon the magician believes, and an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized (Acts chapter 8)
  • Saul of Tarsus becomes a believer (Acts chapter 9)
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  • Peter visits Cornelius' house to preach the Gospel (Acts chapter 10)
  • Peter reports his visit to Cornelius to the church (Acts chapter 11)
  • James is killed, and Peter is arrested and later freed (Acts chapter 12)
  • Saul becomes Paul, and he and Barnabas preach the Gospel at Antioch (Acts chapter 13)
  • Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, and Paul is stoned at Lystra (Acts chapter 14)
  • The apostles meet together in Jerusalem regarding Gentile believers (Acts chapter 15)
  • Timothy joins Paul and Silas, and Paul journeys to Macedonia (Acts chapter 16)
  • Paul and Silas in Thessalonica and Berea, and Paul in Athens (Acts chapter 17)
  • Paul in Corinth, who returns to Antioch, while Apollos speaks boldly in Ephesus (Acts chapter 18)
  • Paul in Ephesus, the sons of Sceva, and the argument with the Diana/Artemis worshipers (Acts chapter 19)
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  • Eutychus raised from the dead, and Paul's final words to the Ephesian elders (Acts chapter 20)
  • Paul travels to Jerusalem and is arrested and held in custody (Acts chapters 21 to 26)
  • Paul's journey on the sea ends in a shipwreck (Acts chapter 27)
  • Paul's stay on the island of Malta, and his arrival in Rome (Acts chapter 28)


Tropes

  • Abandon Ship: In Chapter 27, when the ship Paul the apostle was sailing on strikes a reef and get stuck there while the rest of the ship is broken up by the waves, the captain has everybody, Paul included, swim to shore onto the island of Malta, where everybody makes it safely.
  • Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence: The book opens with Jesus giving a few parting instructions, then ascending to heaven.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Plenty of this going on in this book. At the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell down upon the disciples and gave them utterance to speak in other languages, and the Jews were perplexed as to what this meant, Peter told them that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy in the Book of Joel and also recited a few Scriptures regarding the fulfillment of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection. Stephen in his speech to the Pharisees before he was martyred gave a brief rundown of the history of the Jewish people that also had Scriptural references like from the Book of Isaiah. Paul, the apostle who was a student of the Word of God, also offered up Scriptural references to the Jews who contested the words that he spoke to them.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The followers of The Way start getting called "Christians" by outsiders, but they like it so much they start using it among themselves eventually.
  • Blasphemous Praise:
    • When Herod gives a speech, the admiring crowd says, "The voice of a god and not a man!" Herod promptly gets struck down by God for refusing to deny it.
    • The people of one Greek city called the Lycaonians begin worshipping Paul and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes. They're horrified to find this out and try to put a stop to it as soon as possible.
  • Blinded by the Light: In Chapter 9, Paul (at that time known as Saul of Tarsus) met Jesus on the road to Damascus via a bright light that shone from Heaven, and thus was left blinded for a few days until Ananias (a different Ananias) came to him by the Lord's command and healed his eyesight, causing what appeared to be scales to fall from his eyes.
  • Book Burning: Some former magicians in Ephesus burn their occult books after converting to Christianity. Different from many other instances of this trope, though, since it's their own property they are destroying voluntarily to make a break with their past life.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: Paul and Barnabas used to be an inseparable team, but by Chapter 15, the contention between them concerning the matter of John Mark was so sharp that they ended up splitting off from each other, never to run into each other again. Paul in his second epistle to Timothy calls for the believers to bring John Mark to him, as he was now facing death in prison.
  • Breakout Villain: Simon Magus is a minor figure in Chapter Eight who tries to buy charisms from Peter and is sent away with a flea in his ear. Popular Christian legend turned him into a powerful Evil Sorceror who is the Apostles' Arch-Enemy and something of an Antichrist.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Why, hello there, Saul, (Saul,) on your way to persecute the followers of Jesus, are you? Not any more!
  • Call to Adventure: Peter has a vision before being asked to preach at a Gentile's home; Paul has a dream of a man from Macedonia asking him to preach the gospel there.
  • The Cameo: Jesus! He appears to Saul on the road to Damascus and won't make a major appearance until the Grand Finale, the Book of Revelation.
  • Cargo Cult: In Chapter 17, Paul saw that the city of Athens was full of idols, especially one that was made "to the unknown god", meaning that there was a Cargo Cult for each idol. Paul uses this as an opportunity to tell the Athenians about the "unknown god" that they ignorantly worship, which is God Himself. In Chapter 19, Paul got into an argument with a bunch of worshipers of the statue of Artemis of Ephesus, who saw that people were being turned away from worshiping her and were no longer buying Artemis statuettes because Paul was preaching about Jesus.
  • Commune: Verses indicate that members of the early Christian church lived in communes. Acts 2:44-45 says of the early Christians: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." Acts 4:32-37 goes into further detail, describing how all possessions were held in common, and the rich believers who owned houses and land sold the proceeds and gave them to the apostles. The first ten verses of Acts 5 describe Ananias and Sapphira, two believers who sold their land but kept some of the proceeds for themselves, then lied about how much they gave. After Peter confronts them about the lie (which was what upset him more than holding back on the giving), they fall over dead.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In Athens, some people receive a garbled account of Paul's preaching and mistakenly gather he is talking about two foreign gods: "Jesus" and "Anastasis (Resurrection)"!
  • Death by Falling Over: This was believed to have happened to Eutychus in Chapter 20 when Paul the apostle was preaching a long sermon, that the young man fell asleep and fell from the third story to his death. Paul tells the people that Eutychus was still alive, and so after finishing his sermon, he restored the young man to life and the people were greatly comforted.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Acts initially focuses on Peter and the early church in general before becoming an almost exclusive biography of Paul.
  • Deus ex Machina: God shows up for some pretty spectacular miracles, starting with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, allowing the Apostles to be preach without fear and to be understood by everyone, regardless of language.
  • Driven to Suicide: When an earthquake struck the jail at Phillippi, the keeper of the prison was going to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had fled, and he knew he'd probably die if that happened. He was stopped by Paul, one of the prisoners.
  • Easy Evangelism: Several cases:
    • Peter's sermon on Pentecost results in several thousand conversions at once. Justified, as the Holy Spirit had a big hand in it.
    • Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who just so happens to have been studying The Bible at the moment and wondering who this "Messiah" might be. Philip explains about Jesus, and within a few minutes the Ethiopian says, "Look! There's some water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
    • Averted several times with Paul, who has more mixed results preaching to the Gentiles. For instance, his preaching to various intellectuals in Athens is described as pretty much an abject failure, with most of them being dismissive of the Resurrection and the most favorable results being a few people who said they were interested in hearing more about it some other time. And of course, good luck getting any of the Pharisees or Sadducees to look kindly on the message of Jesus.
    • Deliberately invoked when a dispute arises of whether non-Jewish Christian converts should then follow the Torah, including circumcision and the Kosher dietary laws. In a meeting of the Apostles, it was agreed that Gentile converts should be exempted from the Torah in order to ease conversions.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: a ship on which St. Paul is travelling encounters an extremely rough storm, and one of the measures the crew takes to try to survive is to dump the cargo overboard.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Inverted by the Ethiopian eunuch, who was brought to the saving faith of Jesus Christ by Philip explaining the portion of the book of Isaiah he was reading.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Bar-Jesus (also known as Elymas), who in Chapter 13 sought to use his powers to turn the proconsul Sergius Paulus away from the faith that Paul was preaching to him. Paul countered him by casting a temporary curse on him so that he would be blind for a certain time, and in the process of the curse taking hold, Sergius Paulus became a believer.
  • The Famine: A prophet from Jerusalem named Agabus came to Antioch in Chapter 11 and prophesied that there would be a famine that would spread throughout the whole known world, which took place in the days of Claudius Caesar, which prompted the disciples send aid to those living in Judea.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: In several places, Luke offhandedly remarks, "So then we went to this place...", indicating that he was actually present for at least some of the events.
  • A God Am I: Herod refuses to deny this when people deify him for his oratory. The real one doesn't take very kindly to that.
  • A God I Am Not:
    • When Paul and Barnabas perform a miracle in one Greek city, it backfires when the locals conclude they are incarnations of Zeus and Hermes and prepare to offer sacrifices to them. The apostles protest that they are just men, but then that backfires by causing the crowd to get angry and stone them.
    • Also, Cornelius meets Peter and bows down at his feet to worship him, but Peter immediately responds, "Stand up; I'm just a man!"
  • God Test: In Chapter 5, when a group of disciples were brought in before the Sanhedrin because they were disobedient to the command of not teaching anyone in the name of Jesus, and the disciples answered, "We must obey God rather than men," the Sanhedrin wanted to kill them, but a well-respected man among them named Gamaliel reasoned with them to leave the disciples alone, saying (as a test of whether these disciples were truly of God) that if their work was simply the work of men, it will come to nothing, but if it is the work of God, then they won't be able to stop it because they would be found fighting against God.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Even as God is benevolent enough to give grace to both Jews and Gentiles so that they could enter into the Kingdom of God to be saved, He still punished Ananias and Sapphira for their conspiracy of lying before God in regards to a certain property Ananias sold and afterward only giving a portion of it to the church. Paul the apostle says to the people in Athens that, though God has overlooked their times of ignorance, He now commands everyone everywhere to repent, because He has set up a time and appointed a Man named Jesus (whom He raised from the dead) for the purpose of judging the world in righteousness.
  • Guile Hero: On trial before a Jewish tribunal, Paul recognizes that the group is split between two rival sects, one that believes in the resurrection and one that doesn't. He yells out that he's on trial because he believes in the resurrection, which causes a fight to break out and turns the tribunal against itself.
  • Happily Ever Before: Church tradition states that eleven of the twelve disciples (plus Paul) were eventually martyred, but the book ends with Paul just in house arrest.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Stephen gets stoned (meaning people threw rocks at him until he was dead). That's actually a pretty cruel way to die, but because "stoned" is also slang for bring under the influence of a drug this line may have evoked snickers from more recent generations of Sunday School kids.
  • Heel–Face Turn and Heel–Faith Turn: Saul of Tarsus, the approving coat-bearer at the stoning of early martyr Saint Stephen, becomes the chief Knight Templar on "witch hunts" to destroy all Christians until he encounters Jesus on the way to Damascus. Saul becomes known as Paul after he has (quite literally) seen the light.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned by the council for his truthful testimony of Jesus.
  • Honor Before Reason: Several Jews made an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul, who was under Roman arrest at this point. They organized an ambush to take place while Paul was being transferred to another city, but the Romans got word of it and sent about 400 soldiers to guard Paul on the journey. It is unknown whether the conspirators broke their vow or starved to death.
  • Hope Spot: The ending, again. Paul may be in house arrest, but the gospel message is still going forward with no signs of stopping.
  • Invisible Wall: Paul wanted to keep preaching eastward, but the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow him to go past Asia Minor.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: So cool, in fact, that even after He goes back to heaven, the apostles are able to convert thousands of people to His message just by telling them what He said.
  • Jews Love to Argue: The Apostles clash incessantly with the Pharisees about whether it's permissible to preach in the name of Jesus. Also, the Apostles argue amongst themselves whether Gentile converts should be required to keep the Laws of Moses.
    • In one instance, Paul gets the Pharisees and Saducees to argue over the Resurrection so he can get out of trouble.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Sanhedrin (high court of ancient Judea) that tries Jesus. Not only do the judges violate every single Jewish law governing trials, but they put on clearly perjured witnesses to convict him. The conduct of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who approves his death sentence (the Romans required it) also counts, as even he acknowledges that no Roman (or Jewish) laws were broken by Jesus. Roman magistrates had the power to have non-Romans crucified at will, however, making the whole Roman "justice" system essentially this for them. Even trials of Roman citizens often went this way, as the magistrate was free to admit or ignore any evidence they pleased. Later on Paul, a Roman citizen, was given a trial, but the outcome was never in doubt. The only real privilege they had was that citizens could not be crucified. Thus in Christian tradition Paul is beheaded, while Peter gets crucified (upside down, as he doesn't want it to resemble Jesus' death).
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For claiming A God Am I, Herod was struck down during his birthday party with a seizure, then eaten by intestinal worms.
  • Liquid Assets: In the early chapters of this book, Peter could heal people just by having his shadow pass over people as he walked on by. Later on, Paul had handkerchiefs and aprons that he touched pass on healing to others.
  • Living Lie Detector: A guy named Ananias attempts to commit fraud, but Peter sees right through the con. Ananias dies on the spot. A few hours later, Ananias's wife, Sapphira, tries to do the same and suffers the same fate.
  • Magic Is Evil: Pops up in a few places in this book. First with Simon Magus, who deceived people with his magic that he is "the great power of God", then later for a time became a believer, then tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with money, only to be rejected and told that his heart wasn't right before God. Secondly with Elymas, who attempted to dissuade Sergius Paulus from believing in the gospel presented by Paul, only to be confronted by Paul and made blind for a time. And thirdly with a group of people who came to the saving faith of Christ and decided to burn all their magic books to make a clean break from their past.
  • Magic Music: While in imprisonment in Phillipi in Chapter 16, Paul and Silas sang praises unto God, and thus an earthquake happened that shook open the doors of the prisons and broke off the bands of the prisoners.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost for the original disciples; it happens again twice in the book of Acts to specifically mark the inclusion of the Samaritans and the Gentiles as part of God's family.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: The gift of tongues on the Pentecost is dismissed by some of those who witness it as nothing but drunken rambling, but Peter preaches a sermon that proves otherwise. Peter starts off the sermon with something like, "Seriously, guys. It's only nine o'clock in the morningnote ."
    • Gets more amusing when Christian groups who think alcohol is sinful assert that the Bible's "wine" is basically unfermented grape juice. In which case these verses read more like "These guys are just on a sugar rush!"
  • Mistaken for Undead: When an angel miraculously rescues Peter from prison the night before he's supposed to be executed, Peter goes to a house where the church is praying for him. Amusingly, they don't believe at first that it's really him, saying "It must be his angel."
  • Money Is Not Power: Simon Magus tries to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit with money so that he could lay hands on people and give them the same power. Peter the apostle outrightly rejects it, saying that Simon's heart is not right before God and that he should pray that such a thought in his mind will be forgiven him for attempting it.
  • Multinational Team: Beginning with Pentecost, the book of Acts describes the Christian message spreading "to the uttermost ends of the earth," thanks to the multi-language sermon they could give at Pentecost.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The reaction of many Jews to realizing that they had murdered the Messiah was extreme regret. Unlike Judas, however, they beg for mercy and join the fledgling Church.
  • Name's the Same: In-universe, the Ananias that restored Paul's sight when he as Saul was blinded in Acts chapter 9 is a different person from the Ananias in chapter 5 who died along with his wife Sapphira for deceit.
  • Never My Fault: The Jewish leaders, who originally were willing to accept responsibility for Jesus' death in the Gospel of Matthew, now complain when the apostles preach the gospel that they are "bringing this Man's blood on them" in Chapter 5, disavowing that they had anything to do with Jesus' death on the cross.
  • No Ending: This book ends rather abruptly, with Paul under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: When seven sons of a Jewish priest attempted to exorcise a demon in Jesus' name, but had not been give the authority to do so, the demon-possessed man jumped on them and "gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding".
  • Parenthetical Swearing: In 23:1-5, when Paul declares he has lived in good conscience before the Sanhedrin, the high priest Ananias orders Paul to be struck on the face. Paul rebukes Ananias for trying him according to the law and having him struck which is contrary to law. When one of the council rebukes Paul for reviling Ananias, Paul gives the following apology: "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest, for it is written: 'Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.' "
  • The Philosopher: Paul gets to preach to a whole stadium full of them in Athens.
  • Police Brutality: In Philippi, Paul was beaten with rods, a punishment for criminals, and gets thrown into jail without a trial. He's a Roman citizen so that's not supposed to happen to him. Paul proceeds to lay a What the Hell, Hero? on the magistrates the next day, who are horrified when they realize what happened.
  • Power of Trust: Barnabas accepts Paul after his Heel–Face Turn when no one else in Jerusalem will, at first. He also gives John Mark a second chance after the latter had previously abandoned Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey. "Barnabas" was actually his In-Series Nickname; it means "son of encouragement". (His real name was Joseph.)
  • Precision F-Strike: When Peter chews out someone who tries to buy his way into Christianity. As rendered by The Message: "To hell with your money! And you along with it."
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Apostles still have elements of immaturity and disunity, though they've matured a lot since back in the Gospels when they saw the death of Jesus.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Acts chapter 7, Stephen gives the Pharisees a brief recap of the Jews' history, starting with Abraham and ending with Solomon, before telling them, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted? They have even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you have now become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the disposition of angels, but have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The original New American Bible rendering of the start of Peter's aforementioned tirade: "May you and your money rot — thinking that God's gift can be bought!"
  • Rule of Three: In Chapter 10, as Simon Peter was in a trance, he saw what appeared to be a sheet let down from Heaven filled with all kinds of creatures, and the Voice from Heaven said, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." Peter said, "Not so, Lord, for nothing unclean has ever entered my mouth." The Voice said in reply, "What the Lord has cleansed, you must not call unclean." This was done three times, and then the sheet was lifted up to Heaven again.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Purposely invoked by Paul the apostle in the early part of Chapter 23. When the high priest Ananias ordered those who stood by Paul to strike him on the mouth, Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit judging me according to the law, yet order me to be struck contrary to the law?” Those who stood by said, “Do you criticize God’s high priest?” To which Paul sarcastically replies, “Brothers, I did not know that he was the high priest. For it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.’”
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Paul's attitude to the Jews in Macedonia who blasphemed him and Silas in Chapter 18 when he was presenting the Gospel to them:
    But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your heads. I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6)
  • Sequel: The Acts of the Apostles follows the Gospel of Luke directly and the Gospels as a whole, showing how the Christian community goes on from the drama at the end of The Gospels.
  • Shaming the Mob: In Ephesus, a silversmith named Demetrius (worried about the loss of his business if Artemis-worshipers convert to Christianity) instigates a riot, which is defused when the city clerk shows up and says, in essence, "Seriously, guys? You're going to riot about this instead of just taking it to court?"
  • The Sixth Ranger:
    • Paul (Saul) of Tarsus, starting as an antagonist, joins the Apostle after seeing Christ and ends up getting more development than many of the twelve Apostles.
    • Matthias is voted to replace Judas Iscariot after the latter's death; however, he doesn't figure much in the book after that.
  • Spell Book: In Ephesus, some former occultists burn their spell books after converting to Christianity. The books' value is estimated at about 50,000 pieces of silver, or over four million dollars today.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To the Epistles, since Acts is the only historical book of the New Testament where Paul (who wrote the majority of the epistles) is introduced.
  • Suddenly Bilingual: It happens at Pentecost and a few other incidents, where the Holy Spirit grants the ability to preach in other languages.
  • Tagalong Kid: Mark, first to Paul, and then to Barnabas.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine:
    • Dorcas (or Tabitha) from chapter 9 makes clothing for widows and the poor.
    • Lydia from chapter 16 is a dealer in purple cloth, and she appears to specialize in the dyeing process.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Early on before His ascension into heaven, Jesus' disiciples asked Him if it was time to restore the Kingdom again to Israel, and Jesus told them it was not for them to know the times or seasons which God the Father has set under His own authority.
  • Translator Microbes: The Holy Spirit grants the apostles the ability to communicate in any tongue.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Acts 14, Paul of Tarsus and Barnabus are witnessing in one Greek city and performing some miracles while they were at it. The citizens of the city were convinced that they were the Gods, Hermes and Zeus respectively and set up a whole procession to sacrificing to them as such. The apostles had to go to considerable lengths trying to make them to stop. This, in turn, made it easier for troublemakers to convince the very same citizens to attempt stoning Paul and Barnabus to death.
  • Wham Episode: While James wasn't the first to be martyred in the Book of Acts (Stephen has that honor), he's the first of the Twelve to be killed for his faith, and the second to die after Judas's suicide.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Immediately after the Ascension, the disciples draw lots to choose a replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot. The winner is a man named Matthias, who is never mentioned or heard from again.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: On Pentecost, Peter berates his fellow Israelites for killing the Messiah. 3,000 were converted that day as a result, and many more in the following days.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Paul's warning to a group of believers in Acts 20:29-31:
    "For I know that after my departure, dreadful wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock. Even from among you men will arise speaking perverse things, to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore watch, remembering that for three years night and day I did not cease to warn everyone with tears."
  • You Bastard!: From Peter's sermon on Pentecost: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!" This results in a Mass "Oh, Crap!" moment from his hearers, but it's also strongly implied that the readers are meant to apply this to themselves as well; your sins caused Jesus' death, so you'd better repent.
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