Friday, January 24, 2014

Acts' Genre

Craig Keener writes:

I will finally conclude, in agreement with the majority of scholars, that Acts fits the ancient genre of history…

Even if Luke provides narrative structure where his sources are incomplete (as probably in the Gospel), such detailed correspondence with extrinsic sources at such numerous points (see ch. 7 below) is virtually unheard of in novels….

Pervo separates the Gospel from Acts, an approach most scholars today find questionable (e.g., Sterling, Historiography, 320), though we should note that Pervo does not separate them in all respects (see ch. 16 below)….

Large-scale fictionalization in narratives with historical flavor was limited primarily to "fantastic tales, Homeric revisionism, tragic or romantic novels, and comic or satiric novels." As already argued, none of these categories is easily confused with historical monographs, including Acts….

Most scholars believe that Luke made some historical mistakes…Yet such mistakes or deliberate embellishments would hardly make his work fiction….he would prove little different from Josephus in this regard, and Josephus was writing ancient historiography, not novels….

Even the few historical novels interspersed historical characters and some events with mostly free composition, in contrast to Luke's close attention to locations, sequence, and sometimes officials; sometimes bare historical detail (usually in itineraries); and the use of either sources or eyewitness testimony (the "we" material)….

Early Christians and their critics recognized the genre of the Gospels and Acts as offering public claims in the arena of history (cf. Luke 1:1-4; 2:1-2; 3:1-2; Acts 26:26) and proceeded in their debate accordingly….

Likewise, when possible, Luke sets his events in the context of world history, just as historians (and almost exclusively historians) did in their histories (Luke 2:1-2; 3:1-2; Acts 18:12). Further, neither a biography (Talbert) nor a romance (Pervo) should end in the way that Acts does…

But even if we accept all proposed discrepancies [between Paul's letters and Acts], similar discrepancies appear regularly in ancient historians….

Likewise, free creation would have led to competing versions of Roman history among ancient authors, whereas the basic story instead remains consistent throughout. In the first century B.C.E., Cicero noted that everyone expected historians to avoid falsehood and bias. Accuracy was not always achieved, but the desire for it distinguishes the conventions of historiography from those for novels or epic….

Luke's appeal [in Luke 1:2] to…("eyewitnesses") fits the appreciation for research in Hellenistic historiography and has parallels in some histories….

The correspondences between Acts and Paul's letters are, indeed, so many that Acts must fit ancient history or biography, not the expected conventions of a novel….

I know of none [ancient novel] that was so close to history as Acts is.

(Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], 51, 54, n. 127 on 66, 74-5, n. 246 on 80, 83, 96-7, 120, 186, 221, n. 4 on 221)

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