2006-12-01

The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 3

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

We-passages testify against, not for, genuine eyewitness account

It is commonly asserted (rarely actually argued) that the most natural way of understanding the we-passages is to read them as eyewitness reports, and that as such they testify to the historicity of the events they describe. While the author’s use of “we” inevitably leads a reader to imagine an eyewitness account, at the same time it simply breaks all rules of literary rhetoric and common reading experience to say that it logically follows that the “we” indicates a genuine historical record. Everyone knows that fiction written in the first person “I” or “we” is still fiction. (And this applies to ancient classical literature as much as to modern novels.) No-one believes that a first-person narrative is a criterion for genuine historicity in any other field of literature, so when an exception to this common knowledge is made in the case of Acts one may fairly conclude we are confronting a case of theological apologetics.

Ancient historians were conscious of their need to establish credibility and to this end they identified both themselves and their sources. As Robbins notes of the historian Thucydides, he was strongly conscious of presenting himself as a trustworthy and accurate historian, even using the third person to tell of events in which he was personally involved. The historian Xenophon did the same. To impress readers with his accuracy and objectivity he speaks of himself always in the third person “he”, never as “I” or “we”. The historian Arrian likewise described a sea-voyage, for which he had a personal account, in the third person. The author of Acts avoids both citing any sources and allowing the reader to know his or her identity. Even the we-passages are anonymous. Even by the standards of ancient historians that simply does not rate as history. It is, rather, the rhetoric of fiction. Acts makes no pretence to match the historical tone of the more reputable ancient historians. Its third person narrative lacks any reference to the author’s identity, sources used and alternative accounts of events – characteristics common to Hellenistic histories. Its tone and rhetoric are those of a Hellenistic adventure novel. [Pervo]

Before continuing with the next section of this I will add to the above some extracts from the authors referenced and add full citations to demonstrate the argument.


The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 2

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

We-passages and the sense of community

One reason for sometimes narrating sea voyages with an authorial “we” has been the sense that once on board a ship a tight interdependent community is naturally formed. It is natural and common in ancient literature for an authorial voice to slip from an “I” to a “we” when imagining this change of setting. Both Robbins and his critics have acknowledged this. This essay goes one step further by suggesting that the “we” community includes not only the narrator and his characters but vicariously the audience also as an integral part of the “we” community. The story outline of Acts strongly suggests that it was written for a Roman audience who had a strong interest in Rome’s role as a Christian centre, and I believe that the we-passages are best understood by including that Roman audience vicariously in the sea-voyaging community. For reasons I give below I wonder if the audience originally read the literary “we” as their founding community in Rome. Why such an audience community should be related only to certain, but not all, sea-travel sections of Acts will become quickly apparent in the discussion.


2006-11-30

The Secrets of Judas: the Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel / James Robinson (2006). A short review.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Update 7th January 2007: See this thread at iidb for more info since I wrote the following.

Far from being a shock new find that erupted onto the world around Easter 2006 by the grace of National Geographic, the existence of the Gospel of Judas manuscript has been known to scholars since the early 1980’s. Before tracing in detail the history of this manuscript along with the interplay of shady peddlings and academic egos that have long kept it from general scholarly scrutiny till now, Robinson discusses the attitudes towards Judas found in the various early Christian writings down to popular understandings today. He points out how the original Christian textual treatment of the other apostles and family of Jesus was strongly negative but that they all eventually found a way to be rehabilitated. Robinson then posits that the ethics of the biblical account of the character of Judas are wanting by normal humane standards today, and that it is time that Judas likewise be finally rehabilitated. The discussion of the text follows. Robinson’s own experience with such manuscripts and personal knowledge of the key players involved in its recent transmission enables him to offer a serious critique of the history and current treatment of this manuscript. He concludes his book with an optimistic breathe that now the National Geographic has made its profitable publicity splash at the Easter season this year, the popular hype can start to fade sufficiently for real scholarly work of reconstruction and translation and analysis, which takes time and scholarly openness, can begin, just as it eventually did likewise with the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls collections.

Link to book details: The Secrets of Judas: the Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel / James Robinson (2006)

Neil Godfrey


Technorati Tags:
judas, gospel+of+judas


2006-11-29

The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 1

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The “we-passages” in Acts have been understood either as being taken from an eye-witness record or as a non-historical literary device. The former view is generally embraced by default on the grounds that the literary device arguments appear to be burdened with too many qualifications and exceptions to make them compelling. Yet the arguments for reading the we-passages as an historical eye-witness record raise more questions than they answer and I will discuss some of those. I want to suggest another way of reading the we-passages which involves a new way of reading much of Acts itself and that I believe answers many of the questions that have been raised against both the literary device and eye-witness interpretations.

I intend to attempt to argue the possibility of reading the “we” in the we-passages as the author’s way of drawing a Roman audience into a vicarious identification with a new Christianized founding myth of Rome, or more specifically the church at Rome, that drew on both the founding epic of Rome (the Aeneid) and the Primary History of Israel (Genesis – 2 Kings). I believe this interpretation offers coherent answers to such questions as why Paul is always clearly distinguished from the “we”; why the “we” remain anonymous; why the “we” appear and disappear with the odd suddenness they do; why the we-passages portray Paul and his miracles with a low-key modesty and “naturalness” that contrasts with the exaggerated and the dramatically miraculous features found in other Pauline stories; why Paul decides to walk to Assos while “we” sail there to pick him up; and also make more sense of some features of Paul’s approach to Rome and the abrupt ending. While I cannot “prove” that the author intended the we-passages to be read this way I can point to possible clues throughout the text that may make this reading plausible.

VKR on the relationship between the we-passages and Rome

Vernon K. Robbins pictured the author of Acts penning his narrative in Rome and addressing the question of how “we” got “here” in Rome when “we” started out “there” in Jerusalem. In support of this claim he continues:

[The author] says that all of the things about which he writes have been accomplished “among us” (Luke 1:1) . . . As he sits in Rome, he participates in the events of the Christian church, and explains to “Theophilus” how his community of believers got to be where they are (Luke 1:3-4) . . . Thus he can say . . . as Paul voyaged across the sea, “we” got here. (p.241)

Two facts can be presented as undermining this assertion: (1) the we-passages are not used consistently for all of Paul’s overseas voyages, and (2) most we-passages address journeys to places other than Rome. In my argument below I will show that a fresh look at the narrative structure and multiple literary allusions in Acts may well remove these weaknesses from Robbins’ essential idea.

Tannehill on the literary function of the we-passages

Robert Tannehill takes up the psychological import of the narrative first person plural approach as it invites readers to enter in the inclusive “we” with Paul as he journeys to farewell his churches and face his final (Christ-like) passion as it is to be determined in Jerusalem.

By using the first-person plural during the journey to Jerusalem, events are experienced through a focalizing character who accompanies Paul but is distinct both from the seven named companions . . . and from Paul himself . . .. This focalizing character is both anonymous and plural (“we,” not “I”). The anonymity of the group decreases its value as eyewitness guarantor of the report, but an anonymous and plural first-person narrator is well suited to increase imaginative participation in the narrative by readers or hearers of it. The anonymous “we” – a participant narrator – is a special opportunity for us and others to enter the narrative as participants and to see ourselves as companions of Paul as he prepares the churches for his absence and resolutely approaches the danger in Jerusalem. A first-person narrator is a focalizing channel through whom the story is experienced. Our experience of events is limited to the experience of the first-person narrator, and this common perspective creates a bond of identification. The anonymous “we” is a focalizing channel without clear definition, except as companions of Paul, making it easy for many individuals, and even a community, to identify with the narrator. “We” as fellow travellers both share Paul’s experience and receive his legacy as he travels toward his passion. The narrative also heightens our experience of the journey as such, for the “we” narration includes passages that simply present the journey with sufficient detail to make us aware of it as experience of a special type, with its own stages, decisions to be made, and goal . . . (pp.246-247)

The main weakness of this argument is that it is inconsistent with the role of the first we-passage that is not describing a farewell journey to Jerusalem at all but involves the “we” in a narrative where Paul is expanding churches, not farewelling them.

But I will argue below that Tannehill’s main point works much better if one reads Paul’s journey to his passion against the background, in part, of the Roman founding epic, which is, I suggest, exactly the way the author of Acts frequently invites his readers to read it.

 


The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I have had an unfinished draft of an essay on the we-passages in Acts sitting in my computer now for more than a year surely. Several attempts to return to it have led me to baulk at the size of the task I had taken on, with biblical studies not really being easy to justify as my number one priority in life. But now with this new blog thingy I think I have a way to re-work that essay begging for completion, this time in nice easy bite-size installments. I’ll start copying and reworking it bit by bit in a series of posts to this blog. Eventually I trust this nifty piece of technology will enable me to see a series of posts in a folder which can finally come together then as a whole. And who knows, I may even have the added luck of criticism along the way from the odd passer-by to help me identify and remove a few of its warts.

Neil Godfrey
Australia


Technorati Tags:
acts, book+of+acts, we+passages,


Jesus (in Mark), Jesus (in Josephus) and Cassandra

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

As far as I am aware the observations linked here between the Jesus in Mark’s gospel and the Jesus in Josephus were first made by Theodore Weeden (author of ‘Mark: traditions in conflict’) in informal email discussio. I was excited to read a comment from someone somewhere recently (Michael Turton?) that Weeden is soon to publish a book about this. Can anyone tell me when to expect this and what it’s titled?

The only thought I can add is that the Josephan Jesus strikes me as a classic trope in the legendary-mythical Cassandra mold. Literary tradition depicted her as a demon possessed prophetess raving about the foredoomed destruction of Troy, and later of the King who conquered Troy and finally of herself, and whom all dismissed as mad.

Can anyone tell me more about Ted Weeden’s new book that I hear is coming out?


2006-11-28

Romans 1:2-6 – An anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I’m undergoing a long process of bringing myself up to date with blogs and the web 2 world and part of that is trying to bring together one by one bits and pieces I have written notes on over the years. Here is another one, where I present a case for arguing that the whole of Romas 1:2-6 was an interpolation by an anti-Marcionite redactor.

Criteria I’ve used are taken from William O. Walker’s “Interpolation in the Pauline Letters” (2001).

Constructive criticism most welcome of course.

Neil Godfrey


Technorati Tags:
marcion, romans, rom.1.2-6, pauline+epistles


2006-11-27

Review Notes re Collision Course

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

There are two ways of reading John Norris’s ‘Collision Course: one can read it as a student of diplomacy and perhaps be soberly impressed with its contents; or one can read it as a complete outsider, as an Outsider in Albert Camus’ sense, as simply a fellow human who identifies with not only Americans but also Russians and Serbs, be totally depressed by the stark bullying of the stronger power that poses as “diplomacy”. Not only the bullying, but the willingness of the stronger power to quite knowingly risk full scale great power war and treat the slaughter of civilians as a “pressuring bargaining chip”. I suspect many Americans would be shocked to read a US diplomat having no discomfort with identifying openly with Chairman Mao’s dictum of “fight, fight, talk, talk”.

I have been wanting to finish a review of this book for weeks now and still have not had the chance to structure, cut down and complete my notes, especially the brief chapter by chapter contents. It shouldn’t be that hard. Maybe I want to achieve too much with it. But for anyone interested in the meantime here are my raw notes and quotations from the book:

Continue reading “Review Notes re Collision Course”


Mark and Homer

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

One more catch-up link for this new trial blog: notes I made from Dennis MacDonald’s book on the Gospel of Mark and Homeric epics. One plan for the future would be to go have checkboxes against each comparison indicating which criteria are met, and to what extent. I’m not confident that all of my own comparisons would go very far — I’m sure some are way “out there” but hey, why not push an idea to its limits and see what happens? It would be interesting to checkbox each one against the criteria some time.

Book details

Neil Godfrey


Technorati Tags:
gospel+of+mark, homer, iliad, odyssey, literary+mimesis, intertextuality


2006-11-26

Comparing the Gospel of Peter with the Canonical Gospels

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

To write the earlier essays I found it helpful to prepare a table of comparisons between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical gospels. I’ve added the link here for convenience for myself and anyone else interested.


Retraction already?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Am I going mad? This looks like a retraction that my memory just told me I have not yet had time to write! When did I do this? Too busy, too busy….. Anyway, here ’tis.


Another view of the origin of the Gospel of Mark

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Again about a year or so ago I woke in the middle of the night with “a brilliant revelation” that I had to work out on keyboard asap. I had been exploring the range of views in the scholarship on the date and theology of the Gospel of Peter and it occurred to me that the Gospel of Mark, with so many cryptic unexplained references and incidents, might very well be best explained as a response to the sort of gospel narrative that we find in the Gospel of Peter. I was not arguing that the Gospel of Peter as we have it pre-dates GMark, but if GPeter was setting down in ink a previously known oral gospel then many apparent anomalies in GMark are resolved.

Alas, I have since in my mind revised this idea, but have not yet had time to put down my retractions in any essay yet. I did once begin to do this and on re-reading my GPeter-GMark piece began to wonder again if my retraction would hold water. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’ve attached a link to my original essay on a GPeter related trajectory of the GMark and other synoptics. It did at least provoke some kind comments and thoughtful responses when first released. I may write something opposite tomorrow, but will leave this idea stand for at least discussion and thought nonetheless.


The Gospel of Mark’s fictional characters

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

A year or so ago I wrote an essay discussing characterization in the gospel of Mark and attempted to show that the author paradoxically shows as little interest in the earthly person of Jesus as we find in Paul’s letters. A little thought about the way Mark depicts his characters demonstrates, I think, that he is working at a level as far removed from any interest in Jesus’ earthly history as was Paul. At the time I titled it a bit clumsily Notes on the fictive and parabolic character of Mark’s gospel.


Justin Martyr and the 2nd century gospel story

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

A little while ago while trying to trace the evidence for Christian origins one block in the scholarship that frustrated me was the lack of dedicated studies to what was known of the gospel narrative in the mid-second century. There was no lack of resources on the asserted “sayings of Jesus” and supposed “canonical gospel” allusions, but the only way I decided I would find out what a mid-second century Church Father actually knew or understood the gospel narrative about Jesus to have been was to make the time to prepare this table which I have titled Justin Martyr’s Gospel Narrative.


Related post: Justin Martyr’s 2nd century understanding of church origins, heresy and eschatology


%d bloggers like this: