2011-09-17

Acts, the Areopagus and the Introduction of New Gods

by Neil Godfrey
The south side of Areopagus in the ancient ago...

Areopagus: Image via Wikipedia

Literary allusions and influences are generally not about one-to-one correspondences of plot or character details. Authors are for most part motivated to write something new, something that interests them and their audiences, and that means drawing upon familiar written and oral words and weaving them into new creations. Perhaps a good comparison could be drawn from those music programs that trace the history of certain genres of music through the decades. One soon learns that even “the new and different” is really a re-mix of the old from here, there and somewhere else that has been repackaged and presented in a very new way.

Nor does the fact of literary allusion of itself suggest that the topic being written about is fiction. One is quite entitled to write a history of a modern event and draw on allusions from Shakespeare or Homer in the process. Where the line is crossed is where the entire narrative can be most simply explained in terms of literary allusions and ideological interests. Whether that line is crossed is the case with Paul before the Areopagus I do not know. I have not taken the time to give it proper consideration. But surely Lynn Kauppi’s discussion is one part of the discussion that cannot be ignored. (Nor am I suggesting that Kauppi himself rejects the historicity of Acts 17. I have no idea if he does or not and his thesis I am addressing here does not allow me to know his thoughts on the question of historicity.) And in the process of preparing these posts I have had opportunities to catch up with what others have had to say about this Areopagus episode — e.g. Talbert, Kirsopp Lake, Haenchen — and have uncovered a range of ideas that are too broad to include in these posts here. The question of historicity is another one I may take up in another post when I have time to collate the contributions of these and Lynn Kauppi among others.

But in the meantime let’s continue with what I intended to be just one quick post but that has turned itself into some sort of mini-series now. I am discussing the thesis of Lynn Kauppi that the author of Acts 17 (let’s call him Luke) was writing with conscious allusions to (among other literary sources to be discussed another time perhaps) the fifth century BCE play Eumenides by Aeschylus. This post follows on from the previous two posts.

Ancient sources (Cicero, Aelius Aristides, many imperial inscriptions) inform us that in the early Christian era the Areopagus represented the venerable epitome of antiquity and aristocracy.

For Luke’s audience, the reference to the Areopagus in Acts 17 would have brought to mind aristocracy, respectability, antiquity, and the divine establishment of the Areopagus. [The goddess Athena instituted the Areopagus in order to hear the case against Orestes and thereafter established it for all time.] By writing his narrative in this way, Luke operated within the ancient mindset of “reverence for antiquity,” which assured the preservation of both social and religious order. By the first century CE the Areopagus, composed of local Athenian aristocrats, was eight centuries old. The Areopagus had an air of sacredness, immense respectability, and aristocracy. (Lynn Kauppi, leaf 165)

The fifth century playwright Aeschylus connected the divine establishment of the Areopagus with a court-hearing that established the innocence of Orestes.

The goddess Athena had confessed she alone was not able to judge Orestes’ case and for this reason appointed the Areopagus to assist her:

The matter is too great, if any mortal thinks to pass judgment on it; no, it is not lawful even for me to decide on cases of murder that is followed by the quick anger of the Furies, especially since you [Orestes] . . .  have come a pure and harmless suppliant to my house . . . .

But since this matter has fallen here, I will select judges of homicide bound by oath, and I will establish this tribunal for all time. Summon your witnesses and proofs, sworn evidence to support your case; and I will return when I have chosen the best of my citizens, for them to decide this matter truly, after they take an oath that they will pronounce no judgment contrary to justice. (From Perseus)

After the Areopagus hears the arguments of the Furies, Orestes and Apollo the goddess decided to ordain the Areopagus as a permanent court of justice:

Hear now my ordinance, people of Attica, as you judge the first trial for bloodshed. In the future, even as now, this court of judges will always exist for the people of Aegeus. . . . .

I establish this tribunal, untouched by greed, worthy of reverence, quick to anger, awake on behalf of those who sleep, a guardian of the land.

I have prolonged this advice to my citizens for the future; but now you must rise and take a ballot, and decide the case under the sacred obligation of your oath. My word has been spoken. (From Perseus)

The votes are cast; they are evenly divided for and against Orestes; Athena casts the deciding vote in favour of mercy over justice; and Orestes is thus free to go.

Orestes then “disappears” from the play in an almost anti-climactic fashion.

The narrative of Paul being brought before the Areopagus is ambiguous. To depart from Kauppi’s discussion for a moment, the same ambiguity is discussed in other commentaries. The commentary of Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake sees Paul being brought before the Areopagus as a continuation of the pattern of Paul’s experience in Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth: in each case he is brought before the supreme authority of the city for “trial” as a result of hostile Jews. In Athens, however, there are no hostile Jews involved and the hearing “scarcely ends like a trial with a clear-cut decision.” But on the other hand Acts is said to often end the accounts of trials in this blurred way. Other commentators are cited to support doubts that this scene is really a trial scene.

Lynn Kauppi himself notes that the word for “take” (the philosophers took Paul to/before the Areopagus”) is itself ambiguous, capable of meaning either “seize”, “arrest” or simply “take” without hostile intent.

Perhaps Luke’s ambiguity is purposeful.

Luke’s Greco-Roman audience could have read this ambiguity in two ways. First, Luke’s audience could have read his narrative as depicting a friendly discussion between Paul, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and the Areopagus in the Stoa Basilike . . . .

Secondly, Luke’s audience could have interpreted his narrative as depicting a formal judicial proceeding investigating Paul’s possible introduction of new gods to Athens. Viewing the narrative in this light, the readers/auditors could possibly associate the judicial functions of the Areopagus in the imperial period with its functions in Aeschylus’ Eumenides.

During the Roman period the Areopagus did have jurisdiction over the introduction of new gods, and had the power to impose exile and capital punishment. It was something akin to a combined Senate and High Court of Athens.

In this light Paul convinces a court that he is not introducing a new god to the Athenian pantheon. Once Paul mentions the resurrection, some members of the Areopagus scoff at him (c.f. Eum. 647 where Apollo states, “there is no resurrection”); others wish to defer discussion. But they do not find Paul culpable of anything.

If the original readers of Acts did notice an allusion to Eumenides then the idea of Paul’s innocence would have further been underscored.

Introduction of New Gods

Kauppi asks if a Greco-Roman reader who was familiar with the idea of the Areopagus as judicial authority over the question of introducing new gods into Athens might have seen an allusion to Aeschylus’ Eumenides in Paul’s experience.

Paul introduced the “Unknown God” and explained that this god required “proper acknowledgment and repentance by the Athenias (17:30-31).”

The Furies were introduced as new gods, and they had their own conditions to be met, into Athens through a hearing before the Areopagus.

In both narratives the Areopagus was central to making a judgment that resulted in requirement to make a decision on whether to accept the new gods or not.

It was not quite so simple in the case of the Furies, though. At the end of Orestes’ trial (that concluded in Orestes’ acquittal) they were not satisfied and threatened to wreak judgment upon Athens:

Younger gods [e.g. Athena, Apollo], you have ridden down the ancient laws and have taken them from my hands! And I—dishonored, unhappy, deeply angry— on this land, alas, I will release venom from my heart, venom in return for my grief, drops that the land cannot endure. From it, a blight that destroys leaves, destroys children—a just return— speeding over the plain, will cast infection on the land to ruin mortals. I groan aloud. What shall I do? I am mocked by the people. What I have suffered is unbearable. Ah, cruel indeed are the wrongs of the daughters of Night, mourning over dishonor!

Goddess Athena assuages their wrath by promising them altars, sacrifices and religious processions by worshippers in Athens. That’s fine, but the Furies/Erinyes demand something more: the Athenians have to live righteously. Kauppi’s translation:

Death of manhood cut down
before its prime I forbid . . .

. . . Civil war
fattening on men’s ruin shall
not thunder in our city. Let
not the dry dust that drinks
the black blood of citizens
through passion for revenge
and bloodshed for bloodshed
be given our state to prey upon.
Let them render grace for grace,
Let love be their common will;
Let them hate with a single heart.
Much wrong in the world thereby is healed.
(Eum. 956-57, 976-87)

The Furies, the new gods, will live in Athens provided they receive their due honors and the Athenians live justly. At the end of the Eumenides, the Athenians honor the Erinyes by escorting them in procession to their new shrine, a cave on the slopes of the Areopagus (1003-47). Aeschylus introduces a new cult, the Erinyes, into Athens after the founding of the Areopagus, the governing body that helped regulate the introduction of new gods. (leaf 172)

Did early readers of Acts associate Paul’s introduction of a new god (the “Unknown God”) with one of the traditional functions of the Areopagus — judgments concerning the introduction of new gods? (Some commentators even from ancient times have raised the possibility that Luke intended to convey the impression that the Athenians thought both Jesus and “Resurrection” [Anastasis] were the new gods he was introducing.)

Paul made it clear that his “new god” also demanded justice and righteousness.

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

There is nothing remarkable, Kauppi explains, in gods — gentile or Jewish — demanding repentance or changed behaviour. Greek philosophies also demanded changed behaviour and conformity to moderation and ethical standards — as we find narrated by Lucian in Nigrinus.

There is also an irony here with Paul being thought to introduce “new gods” while he himself explains that he is really pointing to a god that the Athenians are already worshiping. He is “merely” pointing them to the “true God”. The Erinyes, on the other hand, had no cult in Athens until the establishment of the Areopagus and Athena’s final judgment.

Further,

Greco-Romans may have seen a second level of irony in an allusion to Eumenides. In Eumenides the entire polis [city-state] welcomes the Erinyes into the Athenian pantheon. In Acts, the Athenians, excepting Dionysius, Damaris, and “a few others” (17:34), do not accept God as they accepted the Erinyes in Eumenides. (leaf 173)

And now we return to the first post in this “series” that picks up where Kauppi continues his argument.

Criteria and motivation

Lynn Kauppi wrote his thesis before Dennis MacDonald published his controversial The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. She was, however, familiar with MacDonald’s Christianizing Homer: the Odyssey, Plato and the Acts of Andrew — less controversial presumably because no-one had any objection to finding Homeric influences on the creation of a spurious work such as the Acts of Andrew!

That should sum up all that needs to be said about the controversy surrounding these sorts of studies in relation to biblical texts.

In that work MacDonald’s criteria for intertextual dependence, as listed by Kauppi, were:

  • density and order
  • explanatory value
  • accessibility
  • analogy
  • motivation

MacDonald altered these criteria subsequent to the publication of “Christianizing Homer”. He wrote to Kauppi:

I consider accessibility and analogy environmental issues somewhat difficult to apply to particular texts. I’ve dropped them as criteria, but use them to bolster the argument. I’ve also separated the criteria ‘density’ and ‘order.’ I’ve changed ‘motivation’ to ‘emulation,’ the ancient rhetorical designation for improving on a model. I’ve added one other criterion: ‘retention of distinctive traits.’

In Homeric Epics MacDonald published a slightly modified list of criteria. These are outlined — along with two other sets of criteria by other scholars for similar purposes — in my post Three criteria lists for literary borrowing.

There is a problem with the sorts of criteria listed by these scholars, however, when addressing Acts 17:16-34. As Kauppi himself explains:

MacDonald developed his criteria in order to study literary dependence between two entire works. Since I am studying the allusions to sections of one text found in a short section of another text, I do not address density, order, explanatory value, emulation or retention of distinctive traits. (leaf 161)

Kauppi chooses to use three of MacDonald’s initial criteria:

  • accessibility — to answer whether an alleged source was available to the dependent text
  • analogy — to learn if the supposed source influenced other texts
  • motivation — to see if there is a reasonable explanation for the use of allusions

As discussed in my initial post Kauppi treats accessibility and analogy together. Kauppi has asked throughout whether a Greco-Roman audience could have seen in Acts 17 an allusion to Eumenides and also whether they could have recognized a purpose for such an allusion.

Kauppi sees mixed responses on the part of any audience who may have observed allusions to Eumenides.

Luke drenches the scene in classical Hellenistic culture. There are the statues and altars of the Greek gods that “enrage” Paul; there are two major Greek philosophical schools making their appearance; and when Paul speaks before the most prestigious body of the Athenian state he in all likelihood alludes to writings of Epimenides, Aratus and Kleanthes. The high and the low (from a Christian perspective) of the Greek culture are being brought together here.

When Paul speaks about “the true God” — under the guise of the already accepted “Unknown God” — he is comparing the Christian god with the Greek gods. Paul’s description of “God” relates him to the attributes of the gods of the Greeks:

  • God exists
  • God is already worshipped (as the Unknown God by the Athenians)
  • God created humanity and the entire world
  • God rules earth and heaven

There are two additional attributes of the Christian god:

  • God calls humanity to repentance
  • God will judge the world through Jesus Christ who he raised from the dead

But although Greek gods did not call on worshippers to repent, membership of philosophical schools did bring with it the demand to change one’s life in accord with moderation and ethical principles, as noted above.

If the three allusions to Eumenides were noticed by early audiences then these comparisons between the gods may have been reinforced:

  1. resurrection: contrast the importance and reality of the resurrection with the Greek denial of resurrection in Eumenides;
  2. appearance of Orestes and Paul before the Areopagus: reinforces the innocence of Paul and his message — neither are threats to the social order;
  3. introduction of new gods and their demands upon Athenians: points to the irony that the Christian god cannot be introduced as a “new god” since he is already worshipped as the “Unknown God” who demands repentance and turning from traditional religion.

If a Greco-Roman audience did perceive an allusion to Aeschylus’ Eumenides in Acts 17:16-34, they may have understood the allusion as both a challenge to and an acceptance of the Athenian classical literary heritage. Contrary to this heritage, a Greco-Roman may have seen an argument for Jesus’ resurrection and a demand to turn away from the traditional gods of Greece and Rome. A Greco-Roman reader may have as well seen an allusion to Eumenides as an indication that the reader’s classical heritage could be “baptized” and be included as part of the Christian community. (leaves 177-78)

One can begin to understand the significance of the title in Kauppi’s book:

foreign but familiar gods


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  • DadaLives
    2011-09-18 10:44:44 UTC - 10:44 | Permalink

    This stuff is fascinating! But now I have a question. I may have missed it, but does Kauppi compare Athena’s appointment of the 12 Athenians as judges with Paul’s “appointment” of Christ as judge (Acts 17:31)? Does this fit as well?

  • 2011-09-18 17:26:03 UTC - 17:26 | Permalink

    No, Kauppi only addresses those three elements I discussed here — at least in her original manuscript.

  • 2011-09-19 09:27:56 UTC - 09:27 | Permalink

    It’s very plausible that 1) the historical Paul visited Athens and discussed Christianity with Greek philosophers at the Rock of Ares, 2) that some early Christian at least mentioned this event in some text, 3) Luke had a copy of that text and so wrote the event into The Acts of the Apostles.

    The idea that Paul decided to jazz up this story with gratuitous references to Aeschylus’s then ancient (written in about 450 BC) play The Eumenides is preposterous. Let’s try to imagine the thoughts that must have been going through Luke’s mind as he added these references to his story.

    Paul’s thoughts:

    1. This story about Paul’s sermon to the Greek philosophers would be better if I added some references that suggested to the reader that making Jesus Christ into a “new god” is like making the furies into a “new god”.

    2. This story would be better it I added some references that suggested that Paul’s sermon to the Greek philosophers was like Orestes’s arguments justifying his murder of his mother.

    3. This story would be better if I added some references to a 450-year-old play that depicts a polytheistic cosmos in which gods argue with each other — and even vote like jurors — in trial of a human being who has murdered his mother, because she murdered her husband, who murdered their daughter.

    In other words, it is preposterous to imagine that Luke decided to “improve” his story about Paul’s sermon by adding some references to Aeschylus’s play.

    The main ideas of Paul’s sermon to the Greek philosophers were that 1) there is only one God and 2) this God demands that human beings repent from their sins.

    In the play, the main character, Orestes, refuses to repent and furthermore argues that one god, Apollo, convinced him to kill his mother. Despite Orestes’s stubborn refusal to repent, he is acquitted by a vote of the several gods who serve as jurors in the trial.

    This story about a man who refuses to repent for murdering his mother and who a jury of gods acquitted for that act is supposed to …. what? … resonate in the minds of educated Greeks when they read Luke’s account of Paul’s sermon, in which he argues that there is only one God, who wants all human beings to repent from all their sins? I don’t think so.

    • DadaLives
      2011-09-19 15:02:28 UTC - 15:02 | Permalink

      The first paragraph of your post seems reasonable. However, I’m not sure about the rest.

      Granted, I am not the most learned fellow here, but Kauppi’s argument appears reasonable to me.

      I think it is reasonable to posit that Luke/Paul was simply writing for his intended audience. (“Know your audience” as they say in English 101.) The use of known cultural touchstones, constructions, themes and concepts makes sense in that it helps bring the audience into the narrative. In this case, to make the argument for his (Luke/Paul) God accessible to his intended audience.

      (It’s a literary mash-up!)

      I’m assuming, of course, that the play was in fact a popular cultural phenomenon at the time of the writing of Paul’s (Luke’s) sermon. (Neil’s first post in this series addressed that.)

      I don’t think this was about jazzing up the account.

      In reference to your list:

      1. The Furies (according to the play) were not “new” gods (in the sense that they just popped into existence, but were very old gods. Athena and the Athenians simply did not have knowledge of these gods. They were unknown to them.

      Paul identifies God (who is also very old, “The God who made the world and everything in it…”…”From one man he made all the nations,…”) with their current “UNKNOWN GOD”. This god is already being worshiped by the Athenians and yet is still unknown.

      (I’m not sure if Kauppi’s thesis addresses that.)

      2. I don’t think Paul’s sermon addresses that issue. Nor do I think that Kauppi (via Neil) addresses it either. Be that as it may, I think you’re assuming that the Athenians shared your moral view of the play.

      3. Athena assigned Athenians to be judges in the trial. Of the gods, only Athena voted; and then only to break the tie. Having said that, I think the point of all this are the duel themes of judgement and resurrection.

      According to the play, it was not within the power of the gods to effect resurrection, however, according to Paul, God (their current “UNKNOWN GOD”) has this ability. Assuming the play was still popular and accurately portrayed current Athenian religious belief, then couching the abilites of God and his Son in this framework would make it “better”. Sort of, “My God can do something your gods can’t! Neener, neener, neener!”

      As to judging. In the play we have Athena appoint 12 Athenians (people, not gods) to judge Orestes. Whereas, Paul asserts God’s Son:

      Acts 17:31 (NIV) “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

      (As in Neil’s response to post above, Kauppi does not address this parallel.)

      I think it is also worth noting that, in the play, Athena proclaims the Areopagus as an everlasting tribunal:

      “Hear now my ordinance, people of Attica, as you judge the first trial for bloodshed. In the future, even as now, this court of judges will always exist for the people of Aegeus. And this Hill of Ares, the seat and camp of the Amazons, [685] when they came with an army in resentment against Theseus, and in those days built up this new citadel with lofty towers to rival his, and sacrificed to Ares, from which this rock takes its name, the Hill of Ares:1 [690] on this hill, the reverence of the citizens, and fear, its kinsman, will hold them back from doing wrong by day and night alike, so long as they themselves do not pollute the laws with evil streams; if you stain clear water with filth, you will never find a drink. [695]

      Neither anarchy nor tyranny—this I counsel my citizens to support and respect, and not to drive fear wholly out of the city. For who among mortals, if he fears nothing, is righteous? Stand in just awe of such majesty, [700] and you will have a defense for your land and salvation of your city, such as no man has, either among the Scythians or in Pelops’ realm. I establish this tribunal, untouched by greed, worthy of reverence, quick to anger, awake on behalf of those who sleep, a guardian of the land. [705]”

      http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0006%3Acard%3D674

      As far as I can tell Orestes did not stubbornly refused to repent. According to the play, he did what was (then currently) required of him. To wit:

      “Taught by misery, I know many purification rituals, and I know where it is right to speak and equally to be silent; and in this case, I have been ordered to speak by a wise teacher. For the blood is slumbering and fading from my hand, [280] the pollution of matricide is washed away; while it was still fresh, it was driven away at the hearth of the god Phoebus by purifying sacrifices of swine. It would be a long story to tell from the beginning, how many people I have visited, with no harm from association with me. [285] [Time purges all things, aging with them.]”

      http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0006%3Acard%3D276

  • 2011-09-19 09:44:34 UTC - 09:44 | Permalink

    As I wrote in my previous comments, I think that there was a stage in the development of Christianity in which young Christians wrote “gospel” stories, which was a fictional genre that imagined what would have happened or would happen if Jesus Christ were to descend from the Firmament to Earth, where he interacted with human beings. At the time when these young Christians were creating and sharing these stories, everyone who was involved at that time understood that these stories were fictions. This genre easily accommodated references to ancient Jewish scriptures and to various other cultural sources.

    Decades later, some Christians decided that some of those gospel stories were actually true and so assembled the supposedly true gospels into the much longer narratives that appear now in our New Testament. These Christians thought they were writing true history, telling a narrative that actually did happen.

    Luke was in the later group of Christians. He thought he was assembling old texts and memories into a true history. In particular, he thought that his Acts of the Apostles told a true history of the missionary activities of Paul the Apostle. Such a writer, writing such a work of such a genre, would not be motivated to throw in gratuitous references to Aeschuylus’s old play. Such references did not fit in his genre and did not serve his purpose for writing this work.

  • 2011-09-20 09:20:22 UTC - 09:20 | Permalink

    Mike, I am sure I won’t change your mind about any of this. But for the record I will make a few remarks, in part following up DadaLives.

    We need to keep in mind that the author of Acts was part of the literary culture that knew and studied the Greek plays and other literature, in particular Homer, and was writing to a similar audience. We know the curriculum for teaching Greek literary skills involved exercises with the classics, in particular Homer. Luke’s account of Paul in Athens reeks with classical Hellenistic cultural allusions — including three other Greek literary figures: Epimenides, Aratus (Phaenomena), Cleanthes (Hymn to Zeus). Few commentators even from ancient times have failed to notice the way Luke’s portrayal of Paul discoursing in the market and subsequently coming under suspicion re the gods echoes the well-known story of Socrates.

    Acts of the Apostles is as close to a Hellenistic novel drawing on fictional motifs as any of the apocryphal Acts we know about. See Pervo’s discussion of this: http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews/pervo-profit-with-delight/

    The Gospel of Luke is likewise drenched in intertextuality and midrash that, in the absence of other details both internal and external, gives good reason for believing that it, too, is fiction.

    There may be some nuggets of historical references, such as in Acts 18, but whatever there are in this respect there is little doubt that any real history has been buried beneath propagandist designs: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/how-acts-subverts-galatians/ and http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/djdacts.html

    There is a strong argument that Luke-Acts was written as a response to the Marcionite challenge: e.g. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/05/29/dating-the-book-of-acts-acts-as-a-response-to-the-marcionite-challenge/

    Disputing the plausibility of literary allusions to one particular text when there is little or no debate about many allusions to other texts (many scholars also acknowledge the influence of the playwright Euripides in Acts — even quoting a distinctive line directly from the Bacchae) seems of little point. Making false comparisons with the Greek play to bolster one’s argument does nothing to advance it. The Greek play is not at all about a man “refusing to repent”. Making comparisons that Kauppi at no point argues does nothing to argue the case, either. One has to engage Kauppi’s actual arguments and deal with them.

    The alternative proposed — what the authors and first readers of the gospels were thinking about what they wrote, and what later readers thought, etc, — is nothing but speculative mind-reading. We need to argue from evidence to address evidence.

  • 2011-09-20 14:00:39 UTC - 14:00 | Permalink

    I appreciate the thoughtful responses from DadaLives and from Neil.

    I suppose our differences in perspectives on this question are based on differences in opinion about the nature of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

    I think that Luke wrote both The Gospel According to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, and I think that he intended them to belong to the genre of “history” — an account of events that actually had happened in the past. He had some written sources and perhaps he interviewed some knowledgeable people, and then he wrote these two long, coherent histories.

    The major theme of The Acts According to the Apostles is the spread of Christianity into and throughout the Greek population, from Palestine to Rome, and Paul is the main character. I think that Luke had some source of information that indicated that essentially Paul had visited Athens and discussed religion with some Greek philosophers at the Rock of Ares.

    In accordance with that time’s rules of the history genre, Luke felt that he properly could flesh out this story by putting a plausible explanatory speech into Paul’s mouth. This was a narrative technique in the history genre that is seem often in, for example, the history written by Thucydides.

    That is my own mental frame for the question we are discussing. I try to imagine Luke’s thinking as he wrote this plausible speech for Paul to say. Luke was thinking: 1) what might Paul probably have said to the Greek philosophers, 2) what might the Greek philosophers probably have said to Paul, 3) how can this interchange be written so that it advances and develops the surrounding narrative of the history.

    This discussion between Paul and the Greek philosophers is rather short (compared to the many much longer speeches that appear in, for example, the history written by Thucydides). The discussion highlights three issues of 1) polytheism versus monotheism, 2) the requirement to repent from sins, and 3) the expectation of an apocalyptic divine judgement and resurrection of humans from the dead.

    This imagination by Luke of what Paul would have said to some Greek philosophers in Athens fits in well with Luke’s description of Paul’s teachings throughout The Acts of the Apostles. Within this work, this particular story and the included speech are a plausible account, and we can imagine also that they fit with whatever Luke used as sources of information about Paul’s visiting Athens and talking to a group of philosophers there.

    I just do not imagine that when Luke wrote this episode that he had any ideas about including some clever references to Aeschylus’s play The Eumenides. For Luke, for this history of his, there would be no purpose in making such references. For Luke, such cleverness would be just gratuitous nonsense. Luke’s purpose was to show how Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek population. Luke’s purpose was not to entertain his readers with clever references to a 450-year-old play (450 years before Paul).

    Yes, there was a 450-year-old play about a trial that took place at the Rock of Ares in Athens. Yes, this play includes the words “Rock of Ares” and “resurrection” and “gods”. So what?

    The play does not question polytheism. The main character does not repent the murder of his mother but is acquitted by the gods. The play does not address the question of a final judgment of all human beings at the end of time. The play explains how some supernatural beings, “the furies”, received a special, quasi-god status in Athens in a compromise judgement that acquitted a man for murdering his mother.

    How does that play resonate with Paul’s sermon to the Greek philosophers? The two works do not resonate with each other. It is a mere coincidence that both works include the words “Rock of Ares”, “resurrection” and “gods”.

    • 2011-09-20 18:52:03 UTC - 18:52 | Permalink

      I think that Luke wrote both The Gospel According to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, and I think that he intended them to belong to the genre of “history” — an account of events that actually had happened in the past. He had some written sources and perhaps he interviewed some knowledgeable people, and then he wrote these two long, coherent histories.

      I don’t know of any evidence to support any of the points in this claim. It is not generally accepted that a “Luke” was the real author. What evidence is there that he had “some written sources” or that he “interviewed knowledgeable people” and what is meant, exactly, by “knowledgeable people”?

      Do you have any more evidence apart from the prologue part 2 to indicate the author’s “intentions”?

      What are your arguments overturning the assessment of Loveday Alexander’s assessment that the prologue is closer to prologues for “dream interpretations” than for “historiography”?

      The major theme of The Acts According to the Apostles is the spread of Christianity into and throughout the Greek population, from Palestine to Rome, and Paul is the main character

      What is your evidence for the “major theme” of Acts being the spread of Christianity through “Greek population(s), from Palestine to Rome”? Is Paul the only main character?

      I think that Luke had some source of information that indicated that essentially Paul had visited Athens and discussed religion with some Greek philosophers at the Rock of Ares.

      What evidence is there for any of Luke’s “source(s) of information”?

      In accordance with that time’s rules of the history genre, Luke felt that he properly could flesh out this story by putting a plausible explanatory speech into Paul’s mouth. This was a narrative technique in the history genre that is seem often in, for example, the history written by Thucydides.

      Agreed.

      That is my own mental frame for the question we are discussing. I try to imagine Luke’s thinking as he wrote this plausible speech for Paul to say. Luke was thinking: 1) what might Paul probably have said to the Greek philosophers, 2) what might the Greek philosophers probably have said to Paul, 3) how can this interchange be written so that it advances and develops the surrounding narrative of the history.

      What has any of this to do with what actually happened?

      This discussion between Paul and the Greek philosophers is rather short (compared to the many much longer speeches that appear in, for example, the history written by Thucydides). The discussion highlights three issues of 1) polytheism versus monotheism, 2) the requirement to repent from sins, and 3) the expectation of an apocalyptic divine judgement and resurrection of humans from the dead.

      This imagination by Luke of what Paul would have said to some Greek philosophers in Athens fits in well with Luke’s description of Paul’s teachings throughout The Acts of the Apostles. Within this work, this particular story and the included speech are a plausible account, and we can imagine also that they fit with whatever Luke used as sources of information about Paul’s visiting Athens and talking to a group of philosophers there.

      Plausible account?

      We can imagine?

      What does any of this have to do with historical reality?

      I just do not imagine that when Luke wrote this episode that he had any ideas about including some clever references to Aeschylus’s play The Eumenides. For Luke, for this history of his, there would be no purpose in making such references.

      So what are your arguments against Lynn Kauppi to the contrary?

      For Luke, such cleverness would be just gratuitous nonsense. Luke’s purpose was to show how Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek population. Luke’s purpose was not to entertain his readers with clever references to a 450-year-old play (450 years before Paul).

      Not to entertain? You have many explanations to offer against the arguments of Pervo.

      Yes, there was a 450-year-old play about a trial that took place at the Rock of Ares in Athens. Yes, this play includes the words “Rock of Ares” and “resurrection” and “gods”. So what?

      Did you read my summary of Kauppi’s discussion?

      The play does not question polytheism.

      Does Paul denounce or explicitly question polytheism per se?

      The main character does not repent the murder of his mother but is acquitted by the gods. The play does not address the question of a final judgment of all human beings at the end of time.

      No, but this is irrelevant. Neither of these concepts has any relevance to Kauppi’s argument.

      The play explains how some supernatural beings, “the furies”, received a special, quasi-god status in Athens in a compromise judgement that acquitted a man for murdering his mother.

      Quasi-god status? Compromise judgement? I see no evidence of either of these in the Greek play.

      How does that play resonate with Paul’s sermon to the Greek philosophers? The two works do not resonate with each other. It is a mere coincidence that both works include the words “Rock of Ares”, “resurrection” and “gods”.

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