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

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by Neil Godfrey

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:

  • If we think of Acts as an “historical” record of events we will not see any similarity in literary structures between it and the Aeneid, but if we see it as a literary work composed by an author using an “authorial voice” (as in “among us”, “we” and other less direct ways) for an authorial audience then we may well find it impossible to view it as a “historical work” ever again;
  • The dominant motifs of Acts are strikingly similar to the Aeneid: persecuted refugees from a great ancient city undergo their own odyssey before finally founding a new Troy from which will royal descendents will bring the civilizing true religion, peace, good customs and laws to the entire world — compare persecuted true “remnants” of the true/new Israel are involved in restoring a true religion and new order in the world, while moving to find an eventual “new Rome/Jerusalem” from which this true way can go out to the end of the earth;
  • The structures in which this story is told in the Aeneid belie a knowledge of the structures and motifs of those found in Homer’s Odyssey just as the structures and motifs in Acts possibly belie an intimate knowledge of the structures and motifs found in Virgil’s work;
  • The structures and motifs do not form a one-to-one correspondence, but are played and teased with both by Vergil in relation to Homer and by the author of Acts (called Luke for convenience) in relation to the Aeneid, in an effort to “transvalue” the characters, events and gods of the source work;
  • Paul’s arrest and strife in Jerusalem before going on to Rome consists of stark similarities with the structural role Aeneas’ Carthage digression plays before he arrives at his final destiny;
  • The strategic plot functions of the prophecies and divine dreams in the the Aeneid are echoed in Acts — of course this detail is likely to be a consequence of the nature of this trope in classical literature;
  • The “three voyages of Paul” bear strikingly similar structural relationships to the Aeneid’s three-fold composition of the preliminary voyages of Aeneas prior to reaching Rome (again, not in an exact one-for-one sequential correspondence because the elements used are played with, as mentioned above, for transvaluation effect):
    • the voyages in each work build up layer by layer, or more accurately, concentric circles by concentric circles with critical divine involvement, to a growing realization of where the true destiny of the lead characters is to really be;
    • these layers are as much a series of mounting hints to the narrative audience as they are to the narrative’s characters;
    • the middle of these 3 layer’s details involve an encounter with a twin sister or typological double of the final destination;
  • There is a graduating series of narrative hints throughout Acts that climax with the “we” party’s and Paul’s arrival in Rome — (the pre-Pauline series of allusions implicit in Aeneas, Roman centurions, Caesarea, Joppa, Dorcas, etc are, I wonder, not fanciful but a deliberate planting of cues that build up until climaxing with Paul’s Rome destination, and the “we” passages are possibly a part of that complex of clues.

All of this could be my over-active imagination talking and it will take more knowledgeable heads to cut me down to size on this. Let’s see what I still think of any of this 5 years from now.

Meanwhile, I will have to just continue with my we-passage installments and return to this larger picture of Acts separately. Pity, because the we-passage idea does rely heavily on the larger view. But I will see if I can cover enough of the larger view in editing the rest of the we-passage idea.


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Neil Godfrey

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