Historicity of Acts

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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by neilgodfrey »

Sean Adams once wrote that Paul had to be a Roman citizen or else the entire account of Acts would fall to the ground.
To discount Paul’s citizenship would totally discount the entire narrative . . . . .
Adams, Sean A. “Paul The Roman Citizen: Roman Citizenship In The Ancient World And Its Importance For Understanding Acts 22:22–29.” In Paul: Jew, Greek, and Roman, 315. Accessed May 8, 2018. https://www.academia.edu/3793625/Paul_t ... s_22_22-29.

Earlier, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor pointed out that the author of Acts did not invent Paul's Roman citizenship because, (1) to state it as a fact, the author read it in the "we passages" document; and (2) he could not have invented the citizenship of Paul so that the plot would take him to Rome because, after all, "nothing happened in Rome" when he got there:
Luke's assertion that Paul was a Roman citizen cannot be ascribed to his propagandizing intention because he found it in one of his sources, namely, the Travel Document.31 Moreover, Paul's voyage to Rome, which is presented as a privilege of his citizenship (Acts 25:11-12; 26: 32; 28:19),32 cannot be ascribed to Lucan invention because it is not exploited. Nothing happens in Rome.
Murphy-O’Connor, J. (Jerome). Paul : A Critical Life. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1996. http://archive.org/details/paulcriticallife0000murp. p. 39

Those are three scholarly arguments for the historicity of Paul's Roman citizenship. There may be stronger ones out there.

As for sources, we can see the evidence of use of Jewish scriptures, of the gospel of Luke and Mark in Acts, a Maccabean and Josephus and Euripides, nor to forget at least a little bit of Homer, maybe the myth of Rome's founding (Bonz), and even of the career of Peter as a source for the mirror career of Paul.

But let's imagine other sources for which we have no such clear evidence and accept that there were oral reports and other written accounts that the author of Acts used. -----

How would appealing to such hypothetical sources move us any closer to accepting the historicity of Acts? How could we apply the usual tests historians in other fields apply to sources: are they genuine? who wrote them and when and why? are they Papias-like fiction? are they true history? are they midrash/haggadah narratives to present theological lessons? are they early attempts to manufacture or document a new historical identity for the group? How can we know?

As long as the author of Acts remains anonymous and its time and place of origin up for debate, and as long as we can best assess his reasons for writing by comparing it with, first of all, what we know of the times in which we first find it independently acknowledged, and as long as we acknowledge its use of literary sources for which we do have evidence, I think it is going to be hard to find a secure argument (one based on independent confirmation of some sort) that can establish it as even partly a "genuine historical" document.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by neilgodfrey »

To follow up one detail in the above post....
neilgodfrey wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 8:19 pmEarlier, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor pointed out that the author of Acts did not invent Paul's Roman citizenship because, (1) to state it as a fact, the author read it in the "we passages" document;. . .
Luke's assertion that Paul was a Roman citizen .... [was found in] in one of his sources, namely, the Travel Document.31 . . .
Murphy-O’Connor, J. (Jerome). Paul : A Critical Life. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1996. http://archive.org/details/paulcriticallife0000murp. p. 39
The footnote source for that unqualified assertion is:
  • Boismard, M. É., and A. Lamouille. Les Actes des Deux Apôtres. II, 219.
Boismard and Lamouille state (translating):
We will analyze the meaning of the accounts of Paul's action, starting with a “Travel Journal” that Act II would have incorporated into his writings. This travel journal, in fact, mainly concerning Paul's maritime stages, would have been written by a companion of the apostle, perhaps Silas, as these stages took place; it would therefore be the oldest source used by Act II, the only one that can be traced, with great plausibility, to an eyewitness.
So where does the Travel Journal inform the author of Acts that Paul was a Roman citizen? The answer in B&L is that the episode in Acts 16 is taken from the Journal and it is there that it is stated (as we read in Acts 16:37) that Paul was a Roman citizen (and therefore expected some sort of apology from the authorities for having beaten and jailed him).

B&L admit, however, that such information is unusual for the nature of the Travel Journal that they have assumed from the outset:
We will have noted the length of this story, unusual in the Travel Journal which, until now, was composed only of brief topographical and chronological notations. Let us say, however, that, in the rest of the Journal, Paul will be directly portrayed when he brings the Elders of the church of Ephesus to Miletus to speak to them at length (20.17ff), or when he embarks for go to Rome (27.9-10; cf. 27.21-22.26). It is stranger that the author of the Journal here depicts Paul and one of his companions, Silas. This would be the only case. Here then is the solution that we propose in the hypothesis (which is ours) where Silas would be the author of the Journal. Indeed, Silas would have been put in prison at the same time as Paul during the incident in Philippi. But in writing his Journal, he would only have implicated Paul alone, and it would be Act II which would have added his name alongside that of Paul at the moment when he incorporated the Journal written by Silas into his work. (p. 220, translation)
Hypotheticals upon hypotheticals... all the way down.

B&L effectively deny that Acts 16 is a Lukan creation by proposing an uncharacteristic portion of a hypothetical document instead. Surely we have to consider the alternative: that Acts 16 is a Lukan creation and that the detail about Paul's citizenship is also a Lukan creation.

Another question arises:

How likely is it that an author as accomplished in literacy as is the author of Acts have introduced a "we" character in his narrative without identifying whom that "we" consisted of? How likely is it that such an author could read "we" in his source and wearily (in a major slump of Goodacre's editorial fatigue) simply copy "we" and not identify that "we" for his readers?

Readers like us are craving to know his/her sources because it seems the author was vague as the result of some design or context of which we are unaware. The key point is that author evidently knows they can get away with statements as vague and uninformative as are found in his/her prologue and in such vague and uninformative "we" references.

Ancient historians were often vague about their sources, too, but in order to win points for credibility they did better than what the author of Acts has left us with. They would write as known persons with some reputation for delivering "history" and would give readers more explicit understandings from where they derived their information. For example, a historian would normally state, directly or indirectly, that they learned X, Y or Z from contemporaries and eye-witnesses for the sake of assuring readers that they were more reliable than authors of fiction.

But the "we passages" are as vague as the prologue. They give an impression of authenticity while selling audiences short of any way of checking or knowing any detail. They provide an illusion of authenticity.

If the author had a real source from Silas or another companion, that same author was surely teasing their audience by introducing an unexplained/anonymous "we", piquing readers' curiosity ever since. We are also left wondering why it appears that no other surviving second century author knew anything about such a document. Did the author of Acts discard the only surviving copy after he had got what he wanted from it?

Before we assume that Acts is derived from historical sources it is necessary to determine what sort of document Acts is, and that has to derive from a literary analysis. (Literary analysis at some level is always a necessary first step before we can know how to interpret a document.) If the imprecisions of the prologue and we passages can most satisfactorily be explained through an analysis of Acts as ideological literature then will there be any additional need to seek to explain them as "historical sources" despite the several problems and questions that arise when we do take that "historicizing" reading?
andrewcriddle
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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DCHindley wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 4:53 pm 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.
For the claims about the history of Roman citizenship and other issues upon which I am relying see Roman Society and Law in the NT by AN Sherwin-White.

Andrew Criddle
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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Published about 10 years after Roman Society and Law in the NT (= his 1960-61 lectures that first appeared in 1963) was Sherwin-Whitles second edition of The Roman Citizenship.
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DCHindley
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by DCHindley »

Thank you, Andrew & Neil,

I may have to look for copies. There is a link to both books at Archive.org, same seller, and they have one copy each. Price is not too bad, but will probably be gone by end of day, snapped up by a quick acting fellow member.

DCH
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DCHindley
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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DCHindley wrote: Fri Feb 09, 2024 6:08 am Thank you, Andrew & Neil,

I may have to look for copies. There is a link to both books at Archive.org, same seller, and they have one copy each. Price is not too bad, but will probably be gone by end of day, snapped up by a quick acting fellow member.

DCH
Neil directed me to copies of both books, which I had a good ol' time looking over.

Am pretty sure I must have read The Roman Citizenship as I was mimicking S-W's way of talking (perhaps not as convincingly) in my earlier comments of what I thought I remembered. What is starting to come back was that just before I had my HDD crash with a bad backup drive, I was about to take a closer look at Roman citizenship, but knew I'd have to learn more about the social wars, allies, latins, and other grades of associates.

Republican and Imperial grants of citizenship to foreigners was not usual but common enough with client tetrarchs and kings. Tribes in the west were actually competing hard with one another to be friends of the Romans, even if they had to smack their Roman pride in the rear once and a while to warn them: "Don't take us for granted."

All of the Herodian princes were probably Roman citizens by birth (except Antipater, and his sons including Herod, who were appointed). So were the Hasmoneans (Hyrcanus at same time as Antipater and his brothers), including Aristobulus II (I'm thinkin' the enemies of Marc Antony had granted him Roman citizenship before entrusting him with a couple Legions in the Civil War to kick Herod's ass with), and maybe his sons Alexander & Antigonus. Before he was given that army (before being poisoned before he could do anything) Aristobulus II and his son Alexander had escaped their confinement in Rome to return to the Judean homeland a couple times, raising huge armies and fought Hyrcanus until defeated by Roman legioons, and again sent back to house arrest in Rome. The Romans, despite their fondness for Antipater & Herod especially, gave these two Hasmoneans a lot of slack. It was not until Antigonus went afield and got Parthian support that they treated him as a non-Roman. It was also possible to de-citizenize folks by the emperors who appointed them.

DCH
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity of Acts

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Sorry for being a bit slow on the uptake here, but it is not clear to me what the relevance of the prevalence or otherwise of Roman citizenship in the second century (vis a vis its first century extent) is to the question of the historicity of any part of Acts. Is there a "for dummies" explanation to help me out here?
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DCHindley
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by DCHindley »

neilgodfrey wrote: Tue Feb 13, 2024 9:31 pm Sorry for being a bit slow on the uptake here, but it is not clear to me what the relevance of the prevalence or otherwise of Roman citizenship in the second century (vis a vis its first century extent) is to the question of the historicity of any part of Acts. Is there a "for dummies" explanation to help me out here?
It's related to the Paul as Herodian thread(s). Eisenman has not implausibly suggested that the epistles show a close relationship between Paul and households associated with a Herodian prince. Of course he could have been one of many retainers, just close enough to garner bragging rights. "Best damn patron ever!" he exclaims to his trade associates (at whatever trade that was). He never claims to be a Roman citizen or who his patron(s) was/(were), but Acts does assert that Paul had Roman citizenship "by birth."

I had suggested that the Herodian household he was beholden to was that of Antipas. As everyone knows (hahahahaha) Antipas was deposed about 39 CE and exiled to Gaul and beyond. 30+ good years, not a blemish (except for that war with Aretas IV over divorcing his daughter). So, I suggested that Paul was a son of a Judean convert, probably a slave in the Herodian household. I suggested that with the dad's manumission, he had also voluntarily adopted his master's faith. I am sure he was sincere and made a whole hearted conversion, including circumcision. This technically made his son Paul a Judean by birth.

It would also make him a Roman citizen, albeit a kind of second class citizenship with strings to the former master, now his patron, it was citizenship nonetheless.

So the discussion turned to the kind of citizenship Herod possessed (granted by acclamation by Roman rulers, not by right of birth) and what kinds of Roman citizen rights passed to his own children or direct descendants.

Hence all my interest in Roman citizenship in all of its varieties. I'll eventually create a table of some kind.

This thread was not mine, and I believe was concentrating on whether anything in Acts could be taken as "real" history rather than pious fiction. The subject of Act's claim that Paul held birthright Roman citizenship did come up.

BTW: Thanks for connecting me to copies of those two S-W books you recommended.

DCH
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neilgodfrey
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Re: Historicity of Acts

Post by neilgodfrey »

Thanks for the explanation.
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