2006-11-25

Paul’s reception in Italy and Rome: another Josephus link?

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by Neil Godfrey

While it is commonplace to think of the Book of Acts as an unfinished work, appearing to end without a real narrative resolution (with Paul left a prisoner in Rome for “2 years” — no trial, no death, no release) , I keep wondering if the real problem is that we are missing something critical about the intent of the narrative. As one small facet of this question I have raised before the possibility that the author of Acts was emulating the conclusion of the Primary History of Israel which ends with the king of Judah a prisoner in Babylon (sometimes later used as a cypher for Rome) and the circumstances of his imprisonment.

Now on reading bits of Josephus again I wonder if another piece is falling into place, but this will only make more sense in the context of another essay I began work on about a year ago. That work began as another look at the ‘we-passages’ but it expanded into a proposed explanation that also made sense of the aduptness of the ending of Acts, questions surrounding Paul’s vision at Troas and call to Philippi, his apparent healing of Eutychus and subsequent walk to Assos, and maybe a few more. The final essay of this will have to wait a few more months, given other demands on my time. Now this new thought is another bit of data I will have to check out to see if it also should be included some how —-

This latest snippet of data does tie in with the central argument of the essay though I cannot do justice to the central idea of that essay in the few minutes I take here :

Vespasian’s return to Rome is seen by Josephus as the beginning of a new era and Josephus makes much of all the Italian cities being pleased to see him, but that the population of Rome made an extra special welcoming gesture by leaving their city behind and coming out some distance to meet the new emperor before he reached the city. (Wars, 7.4.1)

Compare Acts 28:13-15 where Paul comes to Puteoli whose brethren welcome him enough for him to stay 7 days; from there, the brethren in Rome left to come as far down as Appii Forum to meet Paul to meet him before he reached their city.

I began work on an essay some time ago on another look at the ‘we-passages’ and found my proposed explanation also made sense of the aduptness of the ending of Acts, questions surrounding Paul’s vision at Troas and call to Philippi, his apparent healing of Eutychus and subsequent walk to Assos, and maybe a few more.

Did other details in this picture created by Josephus also register in the Acts’ author’s mind? Details such as Titus being greatly encouraged by the reception of Vespasian received from the Italian cities and Rome . . . . comparing Paul being greatly encouraged by the reception he was given?

Josephus (Wars, 7.5.3) writes of Titus soon following his father and receiving the same reception from the Italian cities and the Roman citizens as his father. Titus brings with him the leading Jewish rebel, Simon, in chains. Simon had been made a prisoner in Jerusalem, then taken to Caesarea in chains where he was to wait for some time before being eventually taken to Rome — via Alexandria by sea — for his execution. It might be going too far to see in this alone Paul also being taken in chains from Jerusalem to Caesarea where he was to wait for his transfer to Rome, eventually by an Alexandrian ship.

It’s easy to see shapes in the dark of course, but these little details might be worth further exploration and detailed study. If they do have any significance, an inevitable question will be if the Acts author was constructing his conclusion as some form of emulation of the climax of the triumph of Vespasian and Titus at the conclusion of the Jewish war — intertwined with the emulation of the Israel Primary History epic. The only people Acts has Paul meeting in Rome (and that by arranged appointment) are the elders of the Jewish community. Is there significance to the triumphators meeting only the Roman leaders at a scheduled day?

This line of enquiry may draw a blank, but it might not, either. Only wish for more time to follow up as quickly as I would like the details of the texts and literary themes and whether the hypothesis only tosses up more anomalies and questions than it answers. Must get started — but prep on a work presentation must take priority :-/

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Neil Godfrey

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