Historicity of Acts

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Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

The original thread is now here: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=11460

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
spin wrote: Fri Feb 02, 2024 3:48 pm In passing here are the Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts:
  1. The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
  2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
  3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
  4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
  5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
  6. Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
  7. Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
  8. The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
  9. Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
  10. Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
Westar

If the above is accurate, we cannot use Acts to gain any understanding of Paul. In fact, we must shed all post-Pauline literature to avoid introducing false understanding of what Paul says. That means Acts, gospels and any other anachronistic content. We must glean from Paul what he might mean before relating him to later Christian literature.

Scholars have come to reject the Pastorals, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as not being part of the Pauline canon. But there is more to go in shedding orthodox expansion of Paul's oeuvre.

Can we really accept Peter being inserted in Gal 2:7-8 with its talk of two gospels, one to the circumcised and one to those not? Can we believe Paul included a brief account of the last supper dependent on the gospel of Luke which was written after Mark and thus after the Jewish War? What about the belittling of Paul, eg as an abortion, to accommodate him into the ranks of the orthodox apostles - Paul who was chosen before birth?

We need to come to terms with Paul from his background, not from orthodox retrospect.
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
neilgodfrey wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 12:46 am Spin introduced the "Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts". It is worth taking a look at the basis of that Seminar's conclusions.
Why Does This Study Make Such
a Severe Break with Previous Scholarship?


Many of our colleagues in New Testament studies will disagree with our conclusions, primarily because we have departed so radi­cally from previous interpretations of Acts. We reached these con­clusions, however, because we developed a different set of working hypotheses, as outlined in the Introduction. Our conclusions are based on our view that Acts was written in the early second cen­tury and that it used the letters of Paul as a primary source. Much of the previous scholarship had assumed that Acts was written in ca. 85 ce, did not use the letters of Paul, and could possibly have had access to eyewitness sources. With a methodology based on these presuppositions, previous scholarship often found Acts to be a mostly reliable historical resource. In contrast, our presupposi­tions tend to rule out all previous methods for analyzing Acts as history. Once one understands Acts as a second-century document, the methodology and the burden of proof completely change. From this perspective, we now consider Acts to be unreliable unless proven otherwise.

The Acts Seminar, therefore, is the product of a paradigm shift that is taking place in scholarship. No longer can scholarly consen­sus assume a first-century date for Acts. The arguments for dating Acts in the second century are substantial and compelling. What we have accomplished in the Acts Seminar project is a complete and systematic re-reading of Acts according to the new paradigm.

Smith, Dennis Edwin. Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, 2013 p. 329
I would like to suggest that a shorter route to the same conclusion was possible, or at least one that did not rely entirely upon identifying the letters of Paul as sources.

We have no independent evidence to help us identify the author or provenance of Acts. Our most secure starting point is the late second century references pointing us to our earliest documented awareness of Acts (i.e. Irenaeus).

Countless studies have long pointed to various sources for the individual narratives of Acts -- these have ranged from adaptions of episodes in the Gospel of Luke (e.g. the trials of Jesus alongside the trials or hearings of Paul); adaptations even of characters within Acts (e.g. the duplication of Peter's experiences in those of Paul); the adaptations of the healings in the Gospel of Mark to those in Acts (e.g. the healing of the bedridden); the adaptations of Maccabean literature (e.g. details of Paul's conversion); adaptations of "OT stories (e.g. Pentecost/Babel).... a long bibliography of detailed episodes could be compiled.

Moreover, on top of such suggestive hints of sources for specific incidents, one can cite studies examining the grand overview of Acts also being adapted from grand overviews of the founding myth of Rome and epics of Homer (e.g. Bonz, MacDonald).

Further, once we begin with this most secure starting point (second century provenance on the basis of independent witness) we further have additional independent factors making a contribution to our reading: anti-Marcionism becomes relevant and interpretable in Acts once we move it to this time period (Tyson).

In other words, by beginning with the time bracket where we have our most secure independent supports, and taking into account the many evident sources for episodes in Acts (GMark, GLuke, 2 Maccabees, Genesis, contest with a Marcionite Paul, along with its patent repetition and mirroring of Peter in the later chapters of Paul) and taking note of our ignorance of the identity of the author of Acts (notwithstanding -- or because of -- the prologue and "we passages") and its provenance, along with observations about its blended fictional-epic-historiographical genre, we have few grounds for accepting any of the contents of Acts as historical.

Contrast other Greco-Roman historiographical writings in which the authors generally make some effort to assure readers/auditors of the authenticity of what they are reading/hearing by reference to appeals to quite specific incidences of eyewitness reports or specific authorial declarations of authenticity. Acts is a poor comparison.
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 4:19 am
spin wrote: Fri Feb 02, 2024 3:48 pm In passing here are the Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts:
  1. The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
  2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
  3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
  4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
  5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
  6. Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
  7. Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
  8. The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
  9. Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
  10. Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
Westar

If the above is accurate, we cannot use Acts to gain any understanding of Paul. In fact, we must shed all post-Pauline literature to avoid introducing false understanding of what Paul says. That means Acts, gospels and any other anachronistic content. We must glean from Paul what he might mean before relating him to later Christian literature.

Scholars have come to reject the Pastorals, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as not being part of the Pauline canon. But there is more to go in shedding orthodox expansion of Paul's oeuvre.

Can we really accept Peter being inserted in Gal 2:7-8 with its talk of two gospels, one to the circumcised and one to those not? Can we believe Paul included a brief account of the last supper dependent on the gospel of Luke which was written after Mark and thus after the Jewish War? What about the belittling of Paul, eg as an abortion, to accommodate him into the ranks of the orthodox apostles - Paul who was chosen before birth?

We need to come to terms with Paul from his background, not from orthodox retrospect.
a/ I think the importance of Jerusalem as an early center of Christianity can be argued from the letters of Paul e.g. Galatians. (I am not really interested in discussing whether Galatians etc have been interpolated to support later orthodoxy.)
b/ I think the 'we' passages in Acts are probably an independent source for Paul.
c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.

Andrew Criddle
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
spin wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 8:20 am
andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 4:19 am a/ I think the importance of Jerusalem as an early center of Christianity can be argued from the letters of Paul e.g. Galatians. (I am not really interested in discussing whether Galatians etc have been interpolated to support later orthodoxy.)
Acts seems to have been written to create an importance of Jerusalem to Christianity in contrast to the gospels of Mk and Mt which end pointing to Galilee. Paul's Jerusalem is the home of Jewish messianists who show no knowledge of Jesus nor his teachings. (We know about such messianists from the strange story of Apollos proselytizing, knowing only the baptism of John in Acts 18:24ff.)

Do you know what assemblies in Christ were in Judea (Gal 1:22)?
andrewcriddle wrote:b/ I think the 'we' passages in Acts are probably an independent source for Paul.
What is that probability really based on? Can it be distinguished from retrojection?
andrewcriddle wrote:c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.
While I'm looking for a radical analysis of Paul in his context free of post-Pauline anachronism, how can you show any relevance of Acts to the times it purports to deal with?
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
neilgodfrey wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 1:26 pm
spin wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 8:20 am
andrewcriddle wrote:c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.
While I'm looking for a radical analysis of Paul in his context free of post-Pauline anachronism, how can you show any relevance of Acts to the times it purports to deal with?
Is not this the crux of the whole question of the historicity of the narrative of Acts? There is no independent means of demonstrating the historiographical intent or historical reliability of any of the narrative of first century Christianity. Rather, we have the assumption (questioned by the Acts Seminar) that Acts must be based on sources that tell us something about first century Christianity, with the only trick required being able to discern the historical from the fabricated.

As Andrew rightly points out, dating Acts no later than the "very beginning of the second century" does "not prima facie makes Acts of no historical value for mid first century events". But in the absence of any independent indicator that the work has historical value for those events we have nothing more than assumption on which to accept any degree of historical value for first century events.

Is it not more justifiable to begin with a search for independent indicators to help guide us toward an understanding the purposes and sources of Acts?
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 9:13 am
spin wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 8:20 am ..........................
andrewcriddle wrote:c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.
While I'm looking for a radical analysis of Paul in his context free of post-Pauline anachronism, how can you show any relevance of Acts to the times it purports to deal with?
I think Acts helps us to understand how Jews Greeks and Romans interacted in the mid 1st century. The 2nd century was different.

Andrew Criddle
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 9:13 am
spin wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 8:20 am ..........................
andrewcriddle wrote:c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.
While I'm looking for a radical analysis of Paul in his context free of post-Pauline anachronism, how can you show any relevance of Acts to the times it purports to deal with?
I think Acts helps us to understand how Jews Greeks and Romans interacted in the mid 1st century. The 2nd century was different.

Andrew Criddle
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by Peter Kirby »

Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 11:53 am
Secret Alias wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 11:28 am Perhaps andrew can help us understand how Acts assures him that it is an actual witness to the interaction of Jews, Greeks and Romans from the first century rather than idealized "recollection" from the second century.
It is the right sort of interaction for the period. E.G Roman citizenship is rather rare in the Eastern mediterranean and it is binary one has it in an all or nothing way. This is true for the 1st century but not the 2nd.

Andrew Criddle

EDITED TO ADD

It may be a (very early) 2nd century text but it is based on 1st century material.
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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Quoting this here to allow a discussion on the historicity of Acts to continue here:
spin wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 4:00 am
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 9:13 am I think Acts helps us to understand how Jews Greeks and Romans interacted in the mid 1st century. The 2nd century was different.
andrewcriddle wrote: Tue Feb 06, 2024 11:53 am It is the right sort of interaction for the period. E.G Roman citizenship is rather rare in the Eastern mediterranean and it is binary one has it in an all or nothing way. This is true for the 1st century but not the 2nd.

EDITED TO ADD

It may be a (very early) 2nd century text but it is based on 1st century material.
Am I mistaken in thinking that this all is argument (proof) by assertion?
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by DCHindley »

The online resources I have looked at on the history of Roman citizenship do appear to be vague on the periods. Some talk as if the same rules always applied (about full Roman citizens and the lesser level of rights afforded Freedmen and their descendants), but others imply that the situation changed in 2nd century CE, and it was then that the lesser levels were invented, seeing they now had a surfeit of newly entitled citizens. Mind you that these folks may already have been citizens of "free" city-states, or Greek colonies from pre-Roman days, but there would be a lot of folks new to the subject.

While technically "tax free" as a Roman citizen, weren't these new citizens expected to maintain liturgies (these were things like maintaining a park or a bath or a shrine to a Roman emperor) at the citizen's expense of course?

I am not sure where I heard this, but supposedly the move was intended to get free civil services from persons formerly free of such obligations.

That may have been a shock for some of them, but citizenship in the polis or colony had its obligations too, so most of them were used to that and just took it in stride, cleaning the streets or lighting/extinguishing street lamps, etc., as they were directed.
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