Larry Hurtado’s Blog is a sincere effort to share biblical scholarship with a wider lay readership. He has most recently pointed to a site that promises to address biblical issues for a general readership and even has an “ask a scholar” section: Bible Odyssey. Hurtado’s interpretations are (in my view) quite conservative. I think one should raise questions when a scholar’s explanations for so many questions coincidentally support traditional Christian dogma. I don’t suggest that all of his views should be suspect for that reason alone: I have found some of his analysis into how soon Jesus was worshiped as an exalted divine figure to be very strong. But I think Biblioblogs fail to fully respect readers when they present just one view of scholarly research as if that one view were “the correct” one.
Vridar was started as an attempt to share “the other side” of so much scholarly research in biblical studies. When I first took up learning so much about scholarly studies into the nature and origins of the Biblical literature I found that it was so difficult to wade through so much that was logically suspect or short on clear evidence. There was so much assumption, specious reasoning, possibilities that were transformed to probabilities and then to facts, circular argument . . . . and most of it was (suspiciously) essentially consistent with conventional religious dogmas.
So when I read The “Hellenists” of Acts: Dubious Assumptions and an Important Publication — a post in which Larry Hurtado argues that the only difference between the Hellenists in Acts and other Jewish members of the first church was that they hailed from the Diaspora and hence spoke Greek — I felt compelled to submit the following comment:
There is another scholarly perspective on the Hellenists, is there not? I am thinking of Todd Penner’s discussion in his In Praise of Christian Origins. Perhaps the point of departure between Todd on the one hand and the views expressed here lies in the views one brings to the nature of Acts.
I understand your view arises from the proposition that the details of the narrative involving the Hellenists can be read as source material (however much embellished or filtered) for historical events. The same could be said of the common view that you argue against here. The difference in view comes down to arguing for the most cogent interpretation of a historical source.
Penner, on the other hand, discerns reasons to see the Hellenists as more of a literary than a historical construct. They fulfil a creative theological-thematic function. They are a stepping stone towards the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Perhaps one who has more confidence in Acts as a historical source might suggest there is no contradiction here and that genuine historical memories can be told in creatively literary ways, but then that leads to the question of deciding which explanation has the fewest supporting hypotheses to make it work.
I do hope Larry does allow it to pass moderation and I further hope that if there is any response to it that it can be civil and professional.
Anyone interested in another scholarly view of the nature and function of the Hellenists in Acts might like to read
Acts 1-7 as Creative Literature, not History — Illustrated
as well as the post preceding that one (but not so colourfully illustrated)
Luke’s “Ahistorical” Widows, Hellenists and Deacons
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10 thoughts on “Who Were the Hellenists in Acts?”
I remember reading someone, I suspect it was Hanz Conzelman, who rhetorically asked the question “Why were the Pharisees wandering around the wheat fields of Galilee checking on JC’s disciples nibbling grain – what were they doing there?
His answer was ” fulfilling a literary need, being there to ask the question so the author could answer it.’
So refreshing not to read tortuous speculations that assumed the event actually occurred as described.
“…a view from a perspective that possibly nullifies the competing views (no schism/schism)…”[NG]
…may be a view that posits there is a “…false dilemma…”
The “false dilemma” being: ‘no schism/schism’.
Thus, Larry Hurtado has ‘civilly and professionally’ provided a proper name for “… a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.”
False Dilemma: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma
At first, I did not see where NG’s false dilemma [as LH calls it] had been posed.
I must commend Larry Hurtado for bending over backwards to patiently explain to me in successive responses that I do not grasp the point he is making. Each time in response I attempt to demonstrate that I do indeed grasp his point (repeating it as clearly as I can in order to assure him of this) — and then I attempt to make even clearer my own problem with his argument for historicity. But I am not a scholar and am struggling in vain it seems to express my critique in a manner he can at least acknowledge. So far he has not even appeared to register what the problem is. I might be wrong but I’m beginning to somehow suspect he really cannot grasp the very concept of a flaw in something he has taken for granted all his life.
I can’t follow some of the further remarks Hurtado makes. I think he was side-tracked in his first response: he ought just to have clarified that his original post was consistent with the claim that Acts is fiction from beginning to end. The point was that Acts just isn’t saying that there was a school or party or sect of ‘hellenists’ but only that some of the Jerusalem believers it is describing were native Greek speakers (as, on most any account, many residents of Jerusalem were — just as today many residents of Jerusalem are native speakers of English, and there are English speaking synagogues.) If it is a fiction, this will be a true statement (he thinks) about the world in the story.
I have left a reply to his latest comment but it has been waiting in moderation all this time. He does not seem to like a comment to appear without his accompanying naysaying of it at the same time. Either that, or it will simply vanish into his cyber-trash. If that happens I will post it here.
Larry Hurtado has finally allowed my response through after holding it in moderation for nearly a full week. He has simultaneously added his own response and closed the thread. Thus endeth the matter.
Larry could not endure the civility that I sought to maintain in our exchange and resorted to ad hominem and false innuendo as his opener, and proceeded to argue for historicity of the Hellenists by means of logically fallacy. We have background evidence that makes the Acts scenario plausible therefore we can consider it historical!
I have unfortunately found Larry Hurtado to be a most unpleasant person to deal with despite several efforts now to engage him in civil and courteous and sincere discussion.
My post he finally allowed through after 6 days:
Larry’s belated response:
I emailed the following to Larry in response:
Well well — I have just noticed that Larry censored the following paragraphs from my reply:
These paragraphs were originally placed just above my final paragraph.
Lying (and deceiving) for Jesus
I don’t understand how he can claim Paul’s letters as corroborating evidence. Isn’t it universally accepted that a purpose of Acts is to take all the information from Paul’s letters and harmonize it with the proto-orthodox church? Or at least co-opt it?