CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I originally planned to post this response over on Neil's blog, but it was apparently too lengthy for his comments section to handle. Neil has responded to my posts in his fashion. He makes some odd arguments, such as that he never claimed there was a genre of "ancient adventure", that his whole argument was premised on the lengthiness of sea voyage accounts, and that he never really intended to respond to Loveday Alexander. Since I could not post my response fully there, I will put it here.



I apologize for not including a link to your site. I meant to and realized this morning that I had not. I’ve fixed that. I do not have a "no link" policy to skeptics I criticize. Just the opposite in fact.


You are making arguments now that you did not make in your original post.

Neil Before: "Historians liked to include as set pieces accounts of sieges or orations for dead soldiers, not shipwrecks."

Neil Now: "But the critiquer nowhere addresses the point Pervo makes and that I attempt to underline — the proportion of space devoted to such a story is all out of whack in comparison with ancient histories."

You did not say that Historians included shipwrecks but did not devote as much space to them as Luke does in Acts. You said they had no reason at all to include them. In fact, in your original post you did not make any mention of the length of accounts of sea voyages in ancient histories. If I missed it, please point it out to me.

You also made no mention of the length of the accounts in the “ancient adventure” you cited. How could you have ignored such details if you were intent on proving something about the length of the accounts? If the whole point was a comparison of lengths of such accounts how come you neglected to mention such details? In fact, let us look at some of your examples from “ancient adventures”, starting with the Acts of Phillip:

And he came to the sea in the borders of the Candaci and found a ship going to Azotus, and agreed with the sailors for four staters, and sailed. A great wind came, and they began to cast out the tackle and say farewell to each other and lament.

Philip consoled them: Not even the ship shall be lost. He went up on the prow and said: Sea, sea, Jesus Christ by me his servant bids thee still thy wrath. There was calm, and the sailors thanked him and asked to become servants of Jesus. And he instructed them to forsake the cares of this life. And they believed, and Philip landed and baptized them all.

This is by far much smaller than Tacitus’ description of the storm and shipwrecks in Annals and the lines you quote from Polybius. It is quite a bit smaller than that in Acts 27.

What about Jonah? There are 17 verses devoted to the sea voyage and near shipwreck. Another 10 devoted to being in the fish, if that counts. Hardly close to the claimed “60 verses” of Acts. Not even half.

What about the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs?

And again, after seven months, I saw our father Jacob standing by the sea of Jamnia, and we his sons were with him. And, behold, there came a ship sailing by, full of dried flesh, without sailors or pilot: and there was written upon the ship, Jacob. And our father saith to us, Let us embark on our ship. And when we had gone on board, there arose a vehement storm, and a tempest of mighty wind; and our father, who was holding the helm, flew away from us. And we, being tost with the tempest, were borne along over the: sea; and the ship was filled with water and beaten about with a mighty wave, so that it was well-nigh broken in pieces. And Joseph fled away upon a little boat, and we all were divided upon twelve boards, and Levi and Judah were together. We therefore all were scattered even unto afar off. Then Levi, girt about with sackcloth, prayed for us all unto the Lord. And when the storm ceased, immediately the ship reached the land, as though in peace. And, lo, Jacob our father came, and we rejoiced with one accord.

I also tried your reference to Lucian’s Philosophies for Sale (or Sale of Creeds) but could not find an account of a sea voyage or ship wreck. Can you please point it out to me? This is the closest I could find: “Second D. All this is of no use to me. But I might make a sailor or a gardener of you at a pinch; that is, if you are to be had cheap. Three-pence is the most I can give.” And there isn’t really any narrative here at all, just a parody of different philosophical schools being sold and questioned at auction.

As I have said, I am no classicist, so if I missed the extended sea voyage narrations in the above-referenced work, please point that out. But as it stands, I must ask: What the heck? These are many of your examples proving that sea voyage/shipwreck accounts of the length in Acts 27 must be “ancient adventures”? Did you even read them? Have any idea what they said?

You have cited works much too short to be related to any argument about length. So I am inclined to either believe you really were not focusing on length or that you had no idea what sources you were citing to and did not realize that many (most?) of them have accounts shorter than those in the ancient histories. Which is it?


You also have no methodology in determining the length of any accounts. When referring to ancient histories, you refer to their accounts of “shipwrecks.” But when you refer to Acts, you claim 60 verses, sweeping up larges numbers of verses taking place on land (Acts 28:1-10) and many other verses of mundane sea travel that has nothing to do with the shipwreck (Acts 27:1-8; 28:11-16). When recounting the length of “lines” devoted to narratives in your new argument about ancient histories did you include associated events on land or at sea later?


Although you did not discuss the relative lengths of sea voyage accounts in ancient histories and “ancient adventure” you did compare the vividness of details in Acts against those in “ancient adventures.” But you ignored the fact that much vividness of detail occurs in the ancient histories I cite. In fact, you appear to pretend you did not make any arguments about vividness.


Neil Now: "The critiquer sophistically argued that the reason was that our verses were introduced into the bible in the middle ages and not part of the original. Oh dear. What silly duffers Pervo and I are for not thinking of that!"

I nowhere said that the reason for the amount of space devoted in Acts to the sea voyage was the number system. But it is an important point because the Bible is uniquely broken down by chapter and verse. Many ancient works are just broken by chapter or by chapter and a subsystem of numbering that includes more words than in the verse of the Bible.


Neil Now: "More than once the critique objected that I was asserting there was a “genre” of “ancient adventure” (apparently in addition to genres such as romance novels, satire, history) where nowhere did I ever assert such a thing."

You sure did. I did not coin the phrase "Ancient Adventure" and use it in a header for listing ancient literary works, you did. Remember?

Neil Then: "for shipwrecks being a staple of ancient adventures."

Neil Then: "The story is clearly fictional, drawing on the common sea adventure motifs of the day."

And you did so without any mention of what their genres are in that list. Do not blame me for this, blame yourself.

Furthermore, your point only makes sense if you are trying to argue there is some genre of ancient adventure or "adventure motif" that renders all sea voyage accounts of a certain length as fiction. Your use of these sources was also weakened by the fact that they are devoid of context. More to the point, you did not and still do not tell us how lengthy such accounts are, but apparently your entire point rests on an unstated comparison of the length of the account in Acts with the accounts from these "Ancient Adventure" writings? Now that we have seen how short some of these accounts are, we know that you yourself are either deceiving your audience or had no idea how lengthy the accounts you were sighting from "ancient adventures" were.

And why did you not address travelogues? There is a genre of ancient literature about guys who went on trips and described in detail the places they went and interacted with. Did none of these include sea voyages? I'm skeptical of that.


Neil Now: "The critique picks up on one point I cited from Pervo that related to a single feature of the Apocryphal Acts (a point so generic I could have made by comparison to almost any other novel) and thought thereby he was countering my argument by citing other criticisms of a more general nature against Pervo’s treatment of the Apocryphal Acts."

You appeared to be arguing that the Apocryphal Acts were useful points of comparison for establishing the genre of Acts. You offered one response to an anticipated criticism of the use of the Apocryphal Acts. Because you had overlooked so many other problems about such a comparison, I did not feel bound by your lack of knowledge on the subject and so undertook to raise those objections myself.


Neil Now: "The critique objects that I “never really engage [Loveday] Alexander’s argument”. Well, no, I do stand guilty. I never intended to, never claimed to. Only addressed one point of hers as cited to me in an exchange in this blog and hence within a limited context."

You seem to be saying you adequately responded to the summary conclusion of her argument without responding to all the details the argument relied on. That makes little sense. How can you know that the details in all those "ancient adventures" are the same as in Acts if you didn't read her comparative discussion of those accounts?


"One thing my experience in christianity taught me was to never sweep details under the carpet. Always check out every niggling doubt. You might find the whole house about to collapse. And it seems nothing has changed in many quarters of “christian critiques” of sceptical views."

How about the details of how long all those "ancient adventure" accounts you cite? Why did you ignore them? Because they counted against your case? Why did you conceal the fact that so many of them had much smaller sea voyage narratives than the ancient histories you are so eager to ignore? Heck, you now claim that your entire point was about length yet you never discussed the length of any of the supposedly comparable accounts?

It is clear that you have failed to defend your initial case about Acts 27 and have failed to construct a convincing substitute out of its debris.


Boy, for a "rationalist" he sure does backpedal quite a bit.

Some self-styled "rationalists" do more rationalizing than being rational.

Neil complains about "faith-based scholarship." From what I have seen, and I recognize the potential problems in such an endeavor, "anti-faith based scholarship" has produced more bizarre, convoluted, and erroneous conclusions.

I'm trying to recall if Von Harnack was engaging in "faith-based scholarship" when he moved from considering the historical value of Acts to be doubtful, to grudgingly concluding (in his second book on the topic across 15 years) that his results are closely approaching those of Blass, Ramsay, Berhard Weiss and Timothy Zahn, writers whom he censured for their prejudices in favour of miracles and the canon of the New Testament (and to whose crits of his first volume he was addressing in writing his second).

Maybe he was, but since I haven't read those books myself I can't be sure. I do know that even in his first volume (_Luke the Physician_, 1907), where he argued for a late dating and general non-historicity, he begins the book by remarking, "All the mistakes which have been made in New Testament criticism have been focused into the criticism of the Acts of the Apostles." Volume 3 continued that progression, despite a ton of continuing hypercriticism about Luke's Greek composition style.

Or anyway so reports Hemer; whose exhaustively detailed and carefully processed historical methodology in _The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History_ (for the same Tubingen school, 1989) certainly doesn't look to _me_ like "faith-based" scholarship (even though he's admittedly one of the faithful.) But maybe he was lying about Harnack, as was JAT Robinson back in 1976. (Now _there_ was someone with a faith-based axe to grind. Not. {g})


Jason P.,

I'm interested in what J.A.T. Robinson said that was a lie about Harnack? I have never heard that and wonder what you are referencing.


Sorry, that was meant to be read as sarcasm. i.e. even if we might possibly believe that Hemer was just making things up about Harnack (because after all Hemer _was_ a fairly conservative Christian), JATR of all people would lack that motivation. His own references to Harnack are actually more extensive than Hemer's! Indeed, his book (now more than 30 years old) is still a marvel of close concise and qualified analysis.

Of course, JATR is more interested in the limited topic of dating than in the wider topic of historical accuracy, but he recognized that judgments about historical accuracy would greatly influence a judgment about the dating involved. Someone composing Acts in the mid 2nd century would have little opportunity, and possibly not even have the motivation, for introducing major levels of accurate verisimilitude.

It would be worth quoting Harnack (via Robinson, both of them staunchly liberal theologians at best) in detail; but for now suffice to say that Robinson wrote, "Harnack is still worth quoting, not merely because he is one of the great ones in the field, whose massive scholarship and objectivity of judgment contrast with so many who have come after him, but because on this subject [the dating of Acts, and also to perhaps a lesser degree its real historical value] he was forced slowly and painfully to change his mind [eventually to a date of composition in the early 60s, consonant with the end of Paul's open house arrest and the beginning of the process of his formal trial.]"

Naturally, the problem (in some circles) with dating Acts so early, is that then the Synoptics (if not GosJohn) have to be dated even earlier; Luke's at least, and then Mark's and/or Matthew's (depending on which source theory one decides best explains the existant results. JATR argued for a unique non-linear source theory, which frankly as an editor myself I find extremely difficult to deny the realistic force of.)

Or, putting it again in Robinson's words: "Harnack goes on to adduce numerous positive indications of an early dating of Acts derived from the primitive character of its terminology. [N]one of these [admittedly] is proof against the argument that Luke is using the language of his source or consciously archaizing. Nor may we draw any certain conclusion from the notable absence from Acts of subsequent changes in Roman administration and law. [Here referring to Sherwin-White's famous work, wherein he demonstrated that Acts has long been verified as a trustworthy deposit for historians of Roman legality, in reference to mid-1st century situations.] Nevertheless, the burden of proof would seem to be heavily upon those who would argue that it _does_ come from later, and there is nothing, as far as I can see, in the theology or history of the Gospel [of Luke] or Acts that _requires_ a later date if the prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem do not. [Which, he thoroughly argues elsewhere, they do not.] From the internal evidence of the two books we should therefore conclude (as did Eusebius) that Acts was completed in 62 or soon after, with the Gospel of Luke some time earlier.

"But what of the repercussions of this for the dating of the other synoptists, and in particular of Mark, which, on the prevailing hypothesis of the priority of Mark, Luke was using? It is the difficulty of squaring this conclusion with the dominant view that Mark comes from the latter 60s (if not later) that has weighed most heavily against its acceptance."

Nevertheless, JATR does come up with an interesting number of scholars whose analytical acumen he respects, on various sides of the ideological fence, who would agree with a pre-70s dating, and even early 60s.

I am _EXCESSIVELY_ dubious that Harnack and Robinson (not to say some of the other scholars R mentions) can be dismissed on grounds of mere "faith-based scholarship".


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