Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Acts And The Criterion Of Embarrassment

It's often noted that some of the claims made by the early Christians are embarrassing to them in some significant way, so that it's unlikely that they fabricated the claims. Given the status of women in the ancient world and the higher status of Jesus' closest male disciples, for example, why portray women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus while portraying Jesus' closest male disciples as being in a state of unbelief and hiding at the time? In his commentary on Acts, Craig Keener gives some examples of incidents in Acts that seem to meet the criterion of embarrassment. I want to cite some examples I noticed in the introduction to his commentary. He probably gives other examples elsewhere, but here are some I took note of while reading his introduction:

The riot in Ephesus also likely indicates historical tradition. Luke plays the events of this section for all they are worth dramatically, but he would not likely invent them. To invent a riot associated with Paul's activity would weaken the apologetic case Luke so carefully cultivates in much of his work against the charges that Paul stirs riots (see comment on Acts 24:5); he is at such pains to explain Paul's innocence (here and on other occasions) that creating the problem to begin with makes little sense. Given his apologetic considerations, it is far more likely that Luke toned down the repercussions of the incident than that he created it. That Luke could not deny Paul's involvement suggests that there were people who recalled that the unrest there related to his missionary activity (cf. Acts 21:27-28). That Paul later avoids Ephesus (although Luke provides a less suspicious reason) suggests that Paul experienced more decisive hostility there than in most other locations. Luke also appears to assume knowledge of a wider body of information than he reports, mentioning Alexander the Jew and Paul's relation to the Asiarchs as if they were known (19:31, 33-34)….

The charge of stirring unrest (Acts 24:5) was a serious one…Luke as an apologist would hardly have cited so many suspicious incidents to begin with if accusations of stirring unrest did not remain too much of a live issue for him to evade….

Yet Roman courts and important officials (people with the kind of status that weighed in Roman courts) exonerated him [Paul] (16:36-39; 18:14-15; 19:37-40)! Even so, Luke's historiographic sensitivity does not allow him to paint every official the same way, and he cannot suppress some tension (e.g., 4:27; 24:27). Moreover, some close calls (17:10) suggest that just behind the surface of Luke's apologetic were serious challenges against Paul; chains, imprisonment, and execution were shameful in the empire, and Luke had an important but difficult job in exonerating Paul. Association with one convicted of a crime could be used in courts to imply guilt by association, so that some would seek to dissociate themselves from one's memory or legacy (e.g., Quint. Decl. 307.6).

(Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], 212, 223, 446)

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