Monthly Archives: December 2006

The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 8

This is the continuation with the next bit of something I tried to work out a while ago. A series of many more “bits” will follow this one to suggest that the author of Acts was using the “we-passages” as a rhetorical device to advance the theme of Acts as a “mini-epic” telling the tale of a new founding myth for Rome/the church….

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Acts 15 falling into its (literary) place at last

Something about the Jerusalem Council meeting in Acts 15 has eluded me — including even the question to help me know what that “something” is.

This morning I’m sure I’m catching up with what most others have long known, must surely have been alluded to countless times in the literature not to mention “basic texts”, when it finally hit me.

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Did Paul wish he could be cursed from Christ for sake of Israel?

Reading Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Paul and Stoic teaching techniques etc) and studies in rhetorical/literary analyis (narrative voices and all that) have led to a different perspective on that famous passage in Romans where Paul writes:

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…. (9:1-3)

It’s a pretty flamboyant expression that certainly has the effect of getting readers’ attentions and getting them to gawk in some awe at their superior apostle. I wonder if the author is rhetorically identifying himself with Christ or the interceding Spirit, which is the theme of the preceding chapter.

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The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 7

Revised 25th Dec. — 6.30 am

Now that I am adding my two-year old thoughts about the we-passages on this blog segment by segment I have had to recheck what I had written and that has led to a belated reminder about the roots of this interpretation. I mentioned Bonz recently, and I now recall that it was a follow-on study from that that led to seeing the we-passages jig-sawing into a perfect fit into a vicariously involved Roman audience view. Damn. I began writing the we-passages from the wrong end. I should really have just made separate reference to the we-passages in just one section of the Bonz-conceived view of Acts as a whole.

I will have to explore this in writing over time afresh. But for now I can list some of the rubrics of what I was thinking:

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Peter and the Twelve apostles/disciples — the good guys or the bad?

A question arose on a discussion board about whether Peter really knew Jesus given Paul’s stance towards Peter. If somone knew X knew Jesus then how could someone really take issue with X? It’s a good question and I don’t think the thoughts it triggered in me really do it justice:

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The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 6

Have just had another look in Marianne Palmer Bonz’s The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic and rediscovered the obvious original inspiration for my view of the we-passages in Acts. She writes, after discussing the other suggestions up to the Robbins and MacDonald views:

The “we” passages do not represent historical, eyewitness accounts. But while they are, therefore, rhetorical, they were not created to add verisimilitude to Luke’s historical narrative. Nor was Luke merely attempting to follow a literary convention for certain types of adventurous voyages. Rather, the “we” references serve as rhetorical shorthand for the Pauline Christians — those who are vicariously privy to Paul’s example and who, as heirs to his legacy, have been called by him to continue his unfinished mission. They are Luke’s intended audience, whose participation in the ongoing drama of God’s salvation plan is signaled by the words of the Luke prologue: “concerning the events that have been fulfilled among us“. . .’ (p.173)

What I am attempting to do is to elaborate on this, though not necessarily in the way that Bonz herself might go. I am seeing the “we” less in terms of Pauline Christians per se than in the targets of the revised founding myth.


Herodotus and Bible History: Mandell & Freedman contd

Notes from Mandell and Freedman contd:

Intro One: Aims and methods

Many historians consider the Primary History of Israel as both a theological document and a historical one, even if only sometimes one can barely glimpse a historical nugget behind the myth. Yet Herodotus’ Histories is read differently: It is seen as essentially a historic book with no theological worth; or as a work where the mythic element was relegated mostly to the first 4 books leaving the remainder as essentially historical reporting.

Gerhad Von Rad (1944) was apparently the first to suggest that the Hebrews were the first to write “history” and that by giving it a theological meaning (that God’s purpose is being acted out through it, even in only behind the scenes) is what distinguishes it from Greek history. In other words, historians don’t consider references to the gods in Herodotus’ Histories of any worth or relevance to the overall work. (Some, however, do see more comparisons between Herodotus and his presumed near contemporary author of Chronicles.)

Is this difference in the way historians read Herodotus Histories and Israel’s Primary History justified? read more »

Paul and the Stoics 1

Have got the basic content from my past reading of Engberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics tidied up and am finally placing the first part of this on the web for central access. The formatting, I notice, is still rough and very stark around the edges, but that will be fixed before part 2 gets up. This is one more step in a long journey I am undertaking in getting up all my notes and reviews and thoughts from biblical studies up in web format. Who knows how long the whole project will take….


Herodotus and Israel’s History: Rationales for comparison

The following are preliminary notes from my reading of Mandell & Freedman’s Preface — mentioned in my earlier post re Herodotus and Primary History.

Both Herodotus’ History and Primary History:

  • are national epics
  • are divided into 9 books at some time in their history
  • are about the same length
  • begin with a prehistory that includes myths, fables, folk-tales and legends treated as factual
  • and continue in this vein till well into their historical time
  • change structural format at similar point: (Israel about to enter promised land; Persians about to fight on Greek mainland) — from this point on, with the “homeland” the focus of action, a new historical tone takes over (though still divinities and miracle intervene)
  • instruct that history is guided by divine will.

(Though wars with the aim of conquest of another’s territory were common enough in history they were very rarely the topic of literature.)

The illusion of historical genre

Our misguided reliance on:

  • Aristotle who classified Herodotus as an historian;
  • and Cicero who called Herodotus the father of history.

In fact, Herodotus was not a sincere if naive reporter of tall tales, thinking he was passing on “the truth” of the matter. But this was the appearance he wanted his readers to accept.

Rather, Herodotus is classified in “the historic genre because the author successfully created that illusion by virtue of his superb literary craftsmanship.” (pp.xi-xii)

Herodotus the theologian

If we think of Herodotus as writing history we fail to apprehend the literary structure of his work “or the real and primal role that theology plays in it”.

“When we realized that the History is a theologically “charged” prose epic in which two different but related genres, the Documentary Novel and the Roman a Clef, are combined, we began to see that Herodotus was not simply a credulous collector of anecdotal data.” (p.xii)

Implied Narrator is not Real Author

Keep in mind the distinction between the narrative voice and the real author; the named narrator and the literal author; the implied narrator (ie. the literary persona whom the author depicts as the narrator) is not the same as the real author — although the real author may give his implied narrator his own name. (There is evidence this was understood by original audience.)

The implied narrator is a devoted worshipper of the god at Delphi.

Implications for literary analysis

So the implied narrator presents himself as giving real history from the Delphic viewpoint. But of the real author — we do not know that he held the same Delphic loyalties at all – we know that he knew the historical appearance was something he was creating through his narrative persona only. So Histories is only historical from the theological viewpoint of the implied Delphic worshipping narrative persona. It is not historical from a non-confessional viewpoint.

Ditto for Primary History. It is history from a theological confessional viewpoint, but from a nonconfessional viewpoint it is not history. From the latter perspective it is at best a religious document from which some historical data can be glimpsed.

This understanding leads to the rationale for examining both works from the “standpoint of Analytic Criticism, whereby any work, even a seemingly historical one, is to be treated as iconic” (p.xiii) — as a narrative/literary single whole. This enables us to study the literary structures and identify relationships between Herodotus Histories and the Primary History that would otherwise remain invisible.


Jerusalem/Galilee: Questions/routes to answers?

Thinking aloud re my Questions, — dialogues? post: If part of Mark’s opposition to Peter and the 12 included opposition to the legend of Peter and co going out from Jerusalem (Justin Martyr appears to have known of the latter — without addressing here why he would be a factor in a question about the canonicals….) — If Mark was challenging the Petrine/Jerusalem tradition, then he would need to somehow be able to explain why the apostles themselves were reputed to have founded the eucharist (Justin Martyr says they were given this trad by Jesus after his resurrection — again this is not making much sense to those who date the gospels early. Much of my approach is in synch with Mack’s approach, but my details and conclusions I am sure are not Mack’s — all this is for another post.)

But by placing the eucharist BEFORE the death of Jesus, Mark informs his readers why it was that those he opposes also knew of a eucharist rite, (and also why they presumably got it wrong in some ways?).

Matthew tries to outsmart Mark by having the disciples report to Jesus in Galilee anyway, while conceding a few doubted.

Luke restores the Jerusalem/Petrine foundation while still incorporating the Pauline-Mark without a Galilee appearance. (Does he redo John’s postresurrection seaside catch to a pre-passion anecdote tied up with the first call? — following Matson’s argument that Luke follows John.)


Herodotus’ Histories and Israel’s History (notes from Wesselius)

Continuing my notetaking here from earlier post:

(A work in progress obviously — an attempt to grasp overview of the arguments)

Chapter 1 (my observations – with my commentary – on Wesselius)

1. The genre of historiography in its modern sense is generally held to have arisen relatively late in history. Hence Herodotus is called “The Father of History”. (Till Hellenistic era we have annals and chrono lists but not interpretative history as a literary genre.)

Sara Mandell and David Noel Freedman compare Herodotus and Primary History (Gen-2Kings) : both divided into 9 volumes; both separate the 8th and 9th books in the middle of an episode; …. and many other points of comparison (not all agree on their significance).

Was Herodotus aware of the work of Ezra?

Hey… just recalled I have Freedman and Mandell’s work somewhere…. better go back and check that one first….

More later…


(Oh groan! i have just uncovered by Mandell and Freedman, heavily marked throughout — recognizing some of “my ideas” that I have obviously taken from sections of it….. Time for a much needed catch-up revision!!!!)

Questions, — dialogues?

What came first? Jerusalem or Galilee? (I’m not interested in the “contradictions” question as such but in the question from a “dialogue” perspective — what are the different theological debates presumably underlying these variations?)

Justin Martyr says that the resurrected Jesus instituted the eucharist, church orders, etc to his disciples in Jerusalem and from there they went out to the whole world preaching to the gentiles — just prior to the destruction of that city by the Romans. There is no hint of a Judas or an 11. 12 is the assumed number throughout.

Mark appears to say that the resurrected Jesus told his disicples to meet him in Galilee but they presumably stayed in Jerusalem (after having had the eucharist given them before his death, not after his resurrection)

Matthew has the disciples going to Galilee to meet Jesus and there the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples (even those who doubted?) to think back and remember what he taught them before his death and go out to the world preaching and converting.

John seems to have two endings: the first one has the resurrected Jesus deliver a commission to his disciples in Jerusalem; the second has him doing something similar in Galilee. (Not from Matthew’s mountain, however, but from a lakeside — c.f. Matthew’s Sermon on Mount with Luke’s Sermon on Plain??) Was this second a later editorial hand or was it the one author deliberately placing in apposition two traditions?

Luke has the Justin Martyr view but, if we regard him as the same author who wrote Acts, with a time delay built in to the time when Jerusaelem was destroyed.

Acts also has Jesus commanding his 11, then 12, to go out from Jerusalem throughout the world, but in the course of the narrative there is no real depiction of them doing this. One has to find ways of reconciling this command to the 12 with the activity of Paul while the 12 appear left in Jerusalem so much of the time.

The Nag Hammadi texts also reflect the different scenarios: scenes of Jesus in Galilee and scenes of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Does any of this relate to the Transiguration scene in Matthew, Mark and Luke being on a Galilee mountain?

Surely this question has been addressed in the literature. Damn not living near a major university library with the appropriate collection! What leads are there in the literature to follow up questions about the origins of these variant Galilee/Jerusalem traditions.

I know of works like Weeden’s and Kelber’s that argue Jerusalem is the place of the old and fading kingdom and Galilee represent the new (multi-racial) kingdom — but how does such a view explain the persistence of the Jerusalem trad for so long, even though to the “final” gospel, Luke, and repeated by Justin Martyr as if there is no alternative?

Help, someone, please! More questions to occupy me in the night and shopping queues….


Herodotus’ Histories and the Primary History of Israel

Something I’ve been wanting to start for ages is a compilation of notes from Wesselius’ book as much for my own interest as others. I know it’s not the most popular hypothesis in biblical studies, but gosh it is interesting and at least thought provoking, i think. By the time I finish I may well decide it has not a leg to stand on. That’s no worries. Either way, I am sure I will have learned much more about the relevant literary and archaeological and other worlds by the time I reach that point. But an opportunity came up in iidb for me to find an excuse to make a start, and this is it– just a start only! Let’s go…. with a view to refinement, elaboration, embarrassing deletions, up ahead…..

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Those strange NT endings (Mark, John, Acts)

It is widely assumed that the endings we know of Mark (16:8), John and Acts cannot have been the ones originally intended but after reading “Classical Closure: Reading the End in Greek and Latin Literature” edited by Deborah H. Roberts, Francis M. Dunn, and Don Fowler (1997) I have less confidence in that assumption. Nowhere are Mark, Acts and John discussed in the book and the extrapolations below are entirely my own.

In the book Carolyn Dewald discussion of “Strategies of Meaning at the End of Herodotus’s Histories” struck me as raising the same sorts of questions over Herodotus’s ending as are raised over the present endings of Mark and Acts. Herodotus leaves his work in mid-air too. This could only have been intentional since Herodotus throughout his work manages to consistently draw many satisfying conclusions to his many story sections. The question that arises then is what Herodotus was wanting to achieve by way of response from his audience by not framing a formal final conclusion to his work. ‘Histories’ can be read more accurately as a kind of theological tragedy than as a history in a modern sense. It is about the fate of Athenians and their lot within the common destinies of mankind, and their future is left in doubt. The mid-air ending of Histories inevitably left the questions about how one understood the present and future as uncertain and as issues to be questioned in the light of all that had just been read.

Francis M. Dunn discusses the ending of Euripides’ Heracles is tormentingly ambiguous and incomplete, so much so that there have long been many attempts rearrange the text or re-write the ending. The ending is indecisive and the audience has no way of knowing if it is meant to see Heracles as a failure or a hero let alone what sort of future is in store for him. Again, it appears that the author was by this means seeking to provoke a certain type of response in the audience to the deeper questions raised in the play.

Philip Hardie has much to say about the Virgil’s Aeneid and hellenistic fiction in general that is also reminiscent of issues that arise in the scholarship relating to the endings of Mark, John and Acts. He writes: “Ancient novels use many paratextual devices, usually to give a sense of (historiographic) authenticity to the fiction …” By paratextual devices he means those sorts of intrusive authorial comments we find in John 20:30-31. With this consideration the disputed ending of John can then be read as something like: “I can’t possibly write about everything but I have to add just one more thing before I close…. ”

The Aeneid is another case of an abrupt “improper” ending leaving the reader on the point of lurching in mid-air. Hardie says the more appropriate ending has been already written and is tucked away in Book 8 with its prophecies of the future history of Rome and Augustus. Deaths always need a resolution of some kind, a new treaty or funeral etc. but in the Aeneid we have the treaty of peace being made near the beginning of the story and the death it is meant to follow is at the end. Not only so, but there are many textual allusions in the final scenes that echo those found in the opening scenes thus reassuring the reader/listener that this ending really is as intended however unconventional it is. So Mark was by no means the first to create an unconventional story with suitable endings in the middle and an ending that leaves readers hanging, and wondering, and scrambling back over all they have read before to find its meaning.

The obvious objection is that Mark is alone in ending his work with that conjunction ‘gar’. Maybe so, but “Classical Closures” leaves less assurance that the endings we find problematic in Mark, John and Acts were not originally intended to be just as they are.