The literary genre of Acts. 5: a note on “prophetic history”

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by Neil Godfrey

Robert Hall in Revealed Histories compares Luke-Acts with the works of Josephus as being similar prophetic histories. This does not affect the literary genre of Acts, however. Prophetic history is one of many thematic types of history. Compare economic history, political history, existentialist history, social history, “black arm band” history, whig history, marxist history, feminist history.

Josephus saw prophets like Joshua as historians since their prophetic gift gave them insights into the past as much as their present or future. This was not an unusual concept in ancient times. Even Homer among others called on divine spirits to inspire him with an accurate knowledge and understanding of history. How else could he know anything about the Trojan war and the acts of Achilles?

Josephus saw in history the working out of God’s will. So also Herodotus saw in the history of the Greeks the working out of the will of Apollo. (I have begun, still to continue it, a comparison from Mandell & Freedman of Herodotus’ Histories and Israel’s Primary History here.)

Comparisons between Acts and Josephus as “prophetic history” are a separate issue from the literary genre of history itself. Robert Hall discusses the content of speeches and interpretations of scripture, but Acts is a narrative in which those things are embedded. Literary genre comparisons look at the whole picture — the speeches as well as the narrative details and plot structure. That’s what I have been doing here and hope to continue in further depth.

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “The literary genre of Acts. 5: a note on “prophetic history””

  1. Acts was really a story that continued the work of the Spirit of God in cleansing those who obeyed it and received it. The story had nothing to do with a saviour Jesus, a later fabricated Pauline character. The struggle it described was between prophets and priests, a genre that went back to the book of Nehemiah. The original context of Acts was Jewish. the extant text is an artificial revision and expansion for the cult of Jesus.

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