CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I am often impressed by how the New Testament is constantly being confirmed by archaeology. Old beliefs that certain people or places never existed are constantly stripped away by the hard work of archaeologists who uncover evidence that the people and places described in the Bible existed and that the Bible is accurate in its descriptions. The fact that it is accurate in those things that we can confirm (even before we were able to confirm them) gives testimony to the belief that we can trust the Bible in those things that cannot or have not yet been confirmed.

Recently, I came across an article entitled Archaeology and the Bible: How archaeological findings have enhanced the credibility of the Bible by John McRay which gives a listing of some of the finds that have supported the Bible. In the article, Mr. McRay points to several of the better known finds such as the Tomb of Caiaphas and the Pool of Siloam. However, Mr. McRay points to another archaeological confirmation of which I was unaware and which helps further confirm the accuracy of the the Book of Acts: the discovery of the tribunal of Cornith, Greece. According to the article:

One of the most important discoveries relating to the New Testament is the tribunal (Greek bema), or speaker's platform, from which official proclamations were read, and where citizens appeared before appropriate officials. It still stands in the heart of the forum in Corinth, Greece. The large stone platform was identified by portions of an inscription found nearby and dated to the period between A.D. 25 and 50, just prior to Paul's arrival in the city.

Paul spent 18 months in Corinth on his second missionary journey. At the end of that time, the Jews took advantage of the inauguration of Gallio as proconsul of Achaia in May or June of 51 A.D. (see Acts 18:12) to bring Paul before him on the charge of violating their law. Gallio found no violation of Roman law by Paul, no "wrongdoing or vicious crime (see Acts 18:14), and refusing to be a judge of Jewish law, drove Paul's accusers from this "tribunal" (see Acts 18:16-17), where he was seated. Gallio was the brother of Seneca, a Greek stoic philosopher who later became an adviser to the emperor Nero. Seneca perhaps informed the emperor of the fact that Paul had already been acquitted before Gallio in Corinth and thus influenced the favorable outcome of Paul's first arrest in Rome as implied in the last verses of Acts. Luke's accuracy in referring to this tribunal once again enhances the accuracy of the Bible.

Gallio was visiting Corinth from his official residence in Delphi across the Corinthian Gulf. Four fragments of an inscription carved in stone which had been mounted on the wall of a public building in Delphi have been excavated, which contain information about the accession of Gallio and help to determine the date of his tenure in office.

The fragments are from a copy of a letter sent from Claudius to the city of Delphi, either to the people of Delphi or to the successor of Gallio, who had the letter carved into stone and attached to the wall of the building. It contains the name of "Gallio Proconsul of Asia", in addition to that of the Roman emperor Claudius, with dates for his reign.

The letter is dated to A.D. 52. Since proconsuls normally held office for one year, and these provincial governors were required to leave Rome for their posts no later than the middle of April, Gallio probably began his term of office in May of A.D. 51. And since Paul had arrived in Corinth 18 months earlier than his appearance before Gallio (see Acts 18:11-12), he would have entered Corinth in the winter of 49/50-perhaps in January of A.D. 50.

This would coincide well with Luke's statement in Acts 18:2, that when Paul arrived in Corinth on his second journey, he found Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who had "recently" come from Rome, "because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome." This expulsion is also referred to in other ancient sources and can be dated to A.D. 49. Suetonius, chief secretary to the emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-38), wrote a biographical account of the Roman emperors entitled The Twelve Caesars, in which he said, "Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Christ, he expelled them from the City" (see Claudius 25.4). Thus, the accuracy of Luke's account in Acts is confirmed and illustrated.

The article contains a brief discussion of a few other fascinating finds and I encourage anyone interested in the archaeological evidence supporting the Bible to read it.

81 comments:

Yes, the general credibility of the Bible is confirmed repeatedly. It's interesting because it seems like just about everything people complain about gets an answer. I'm reminded of something J.P. Moreland mentioned concerning a Jewish man he met who, while reading the gospels simply for the benefit of studying koine Greek, found that the gospels were written as history, not myth. This particular fellow had actually gone to Harvard and was at the moment doing PhD studies in classical history at UCLA, I believe. Anyway, point being, the fact that the gospels are history and not mere inventions is constantly supported not just by the way they read but by these kinds of finds.

Incidentally, I'm currently finishing up work on a masters degree (one more semester left!) and my internship is in 1st and 2nd Corinthians. I was able to visit Corinth a few years back and it was a huge blessing. I actually stood at this very Bema where our guide talked about this or that. Of course, I was too excited to be there to pay attention to her. :)

Leslie,

Very cool. Thanks for the comment.

BK

How does archaeological evidence of Gallio, Claudius and a speakers platform do anything to "prove" Acts? That's like saying the finds of Troy, and other places like Ithaca and Latium, proves the existence and stories of Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas.

No-one believes fictional tales from ancient or modern times cease to be fictional when we uncover evidence that they were written in a backdrop and in reference to rulers and customs that really were known to their audiences. Why do we have special rules for the Bible that defy this truism for all non-biblical works?

Neil,

That's just it: FICTIONAL stories don't cease to be fictional when we can corroborate their cultural backdrop. But the book of Acts is not intended to be fiction, but history. Obviously the protagonists (Peter, Paul, James, etc.) are not themselves corroborated in Roman or Greek records, but the author of Acts consciously weaves their stories into secular history providing points of contact (such as cultural and historical data) which CAN be so corroborated. The author of Acts presents his work as historical and as far as it can be checked by external evidence it passes with flying colors, as the article mentioned above and other monographs conclude.

I've made this point over and over in our discussions: we cannot externally corroborate each and every factual claim in the ancient histories. But in the cases where we can perform external checks, if the historian shows himself to be reliable, our confidence in his accuracy is increased for the cases where we cannot perform external checks (if they also satisfy certain other criteria such as plausibility).

There is no double standard for the Bible as opposed to other ancient texts. The reason we continue to think that the Illiad is fictional in light of archeological finds but not the book of Acts is because we now recognize (which some ancients apparently didn't) that the Illiad fits the genre of epic, mythological poetry and so we should not expect to find external corroboration of its stories. The book of Acts, on the other hand, is a piece of historiography and as such external corroboration can and should increase our confidence in its accuracy and historicity.

We have archaeological evidence that the places and people mentioned in the Quran existed. Quran is a piece of historiography and as such external corroboration can and should increase our confidence in its accuracy and historicity.

Quran is NOT a piece of historiography, even by its own self-testimony. It is a revelation from God. At one point God says that in this book he is giving mankind the best STORIES for their edification, not history (Sura of Joseph). It does not conform to any particular genre of writing and hence gives no expectations. This is worlds apart from the author of Acts using standard historiographical conventions and careful linking of the events of Acts with secular history.

Don't just toss out parallels that you know cannot be sustained on close scrutiny.

Yes, the Quran is hardly a piece of historiography in the way that Acts is. Just a cursory glance makes that obvious enough. Acts is written as a historical narrative, and usually offers little or no significance to the events. It simply states what went on. The Quran on the other hand focuses less on details and more on the supposed significance of events. Again, the two are different genres.

Anyway, you're assuming that external evidence does always confirm the Quran, which it does not.

Let me play devil's advocate here. What if Acts is historical in a sense? That is what if it is historical fiction? Kinda like how some think that Eusebius weaved history and legends together to form a view of church history that could be used for Christian apologetics.

JD writes:
"FICTIONAL stories don't cease to be fictional when we can corroborate their cultural backdrop. But the book of Acts is not intended to be fiction, but history"

My response:
-- How can anyone possibly know what the author believed or intended? By its genre and the prologue? But we have ancient fiction written as history, and those fictional historical poses also could be corroborated in many of their cultural backdrops. What criteria do you use to establish the historicity of Acts? Genre and corrobaration of the cultural backdrop? That's a pretty loose definition of historicity -- does anyone apply such loose criteria even to so called secular "histories"? I can't think of any.

Me:
But the question we are trying to establish in the first place is whether Acts really is history. If all we need to establish that is history is (1) that prologue sounds like it is history and (2) there are a few historical genre bits in between all the Hellenistic Romance type stories then, then the argument is settled. There is no argument. Just a naive reading of an ancient text that would be laughed at in any class in an accredited university studying any non-biblical texts.

JD
Obviously the protagonists (Peter, Paul, James, etc.) are not themselves corroborated in Roman or Greek records, but the author of Acts consciously weaves their stories into secular history providing points of contact (such as cultural and historical data) which CAN be so corroborated. The author of Acts presents his work as historical and as far as it can be checked by external evidence it passes with flying colors, as the article mentioned above and other monographs conclude.

Me:
So what do we make of the "chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian", for example? That is also presented as history and passes with flying colours according to your criteria.

JD:
I've made this point over and over in our discussions: we cannot externally corroborate each and every factual claim in the ancient histories.

Me:
This is a straw-man rejoinder. No-one has ever said we "need to corroborate externally each and every factual claim".

JD:
But in the cases where we can perform external checks, if the historian shows himself to be reliable, our confidence in his accuracy is increased for the cases where we cannot perform external checks (if they also satisfy certain other criteria such as plausibility).

Me:
I'm confused. You say that it is possible for an historian to make errors and not get the cultural and historical background right even if he writes in a historical genre. But if he can make mistakes and not get the background right, so that we lose confidence in his accuracy, then why is it not possible that he also gets other historical information wrong? If historians can get one wrong, why not the other? Or, are you suggesting that if he gets his own cultural background right then we know every history he sets in that background is also -- in the case of the Bible at least -- necessarily true? Does the same apply for nonbiblical authors?

JD:
There is no double standard for the Bible as opposed to other ancient texts. The reason we continue to think that the Illiad is fictional in light of archeological finds but not the book of Acts is because we now recognize (which some ancients apparently didn't) that the Illiad fits the genre of epic, mythological poetry and so we should not expect to find external corroboration of its stories.

Me:
No, the Greeks certainly recognized their own epic genres, and they also believed that the Iliad was a history in epic form. And it was corroborated by accurate cultural backdrop knowledge. If you say that it is not history because it was mythological, then you are begging the question. I say that Acts is mythological because of all its divine powers (one god maybe but many angels just as in the Iliad there was one chief god and many subordinate ones to do his will) working throughout just as actively as we find in the Iliad. The fact is, the Iliad was considered just as historical in the ancient Greek culture as many consider the Bible historical today. The only difference is genre. And it seems that is your sole basis for establishing whether a document is true history. Except that it might be bad history if it makes mistakes in the cultural backdrop. And if it gets that right, if I understand your argument, then we can trust any story it sets in that cultural backdrop.

(Histories have been written in epic genres, by the way.)

The book of Acts, on the other hand, is a piece of historiography and as such external corroboration can and should increase our confidence in its accuracy and historicity.

I take it then that anything we decide (biblical or nonbiblical) is historiography because it claims to be history and seems to be seriously and sincerely told (even if it is filled with more anecdotes of Hellenistic romance genres than anything approaching what we find in Josephus, Polybius or any other ancient historian) really IS going to be telling us true history. And if they get all their geography and dates of rulers right then we can believe anything they say is set in that time and place. Is this really your argument?

Is it possible to forge a biography or diary or history?

If so, is it possible for a forger to succeed in getting enough cultural, geographic and historical details right yet still be telling a porkie?

Is it possible for someone, either a private individual or someone working on behalf a state organization or someone anywhere in between, to create a propaganda that is more untruths and half-truths than facts, yet still be plausible by virtue of the accuracy of the cultural etc background?

If any of these are even just a possibility, are there any implications for the methods and responsibilities historians should exercise when reading any document, even non-biblical ones?

Neil Godfrey

I think we need to define exactly what a document like Acts look like if it were fiction or if it were history. This makes any hypothesis testable and puts all the presumptions out on the table. Presuppositions play a big part in this I think so for me any argument for the reliability or unreliability of Acts has to rest on the evidence, both internal and external. It looks as though the external evidence matches up as it should, unless of course there are things I don't know about (which is possible). Internally, there might be more of a problem since some scholars argue that Acts doesn't comport with Paul's letters in chronology. I think this might be the biggest piece of evidece that it is historical fiction.

Ron writes: "It looks as though the external evidence matches up as it should, unless of course there are things I don't know about (which is possible)."

The fact that the external evidence, in this case meaning that the author has a knowledge of the geography and official names who were the backdrop of his own world, "matches up" is neither here nor there. Writings of any kind cannot as a rule do anything BUT reflect some knowledge of the culture and world that produces them. This is as true of a James Bond novel as it is of any ancient novel. This simple common sense fact is one of the ways we can tell the canonical gospels were written after 70 c.e., for example -- They contain anachronistic details that belong only to the post 70 c.e. era and that did not exist as portrayed in the gospels as early as the 20's or 30's.

When it comes to nonbiblical history only the lazy historians rely exclusively on one document at face value. I've discussed an example of this at work in the nonbiblical world here.

We know what we know about Julius Caesar, for example, from a multiplicity of writings by his contemporaries, including his own writings. We know what we know about Plato and Aristotle similarly. There is some debate about Socrates, since while there are contemporary (or nearly so) references to him, it is not clear to all that they necessarily prove he was a historical figure. But who cares? It makes no difference is he was real or a creation of Plato and/or others as a "type" or caricature of the archetypical sophist or philosopher.

Unfortunately this is not the case with the question of the existence of Paul or Jesus because that question is not a simple historical one but one charged with theological significance.

And as as been characteristic of theological or religious debates throughout the ages, the defenders of the faith do so with a vehemence that tends to encourage most would-be interested parties to steer clear of the field entirely.

Historians have every right to hold the Bible to the same standards of evidence as they do their nonbiblical histories. If there is no external corroborating evidence for the existence of Paul as there is for Plato or any of the Caesars or even Socrates or any other central character in ancient history, then we have a responsibility to uphold the same historical standards we apply to nonbiblical history and simply not "go there".

At least not as historians.

Believers can go wherever their beliefs take them, but let's not get them confused with historical method or evidence.

Neil,

You keep insisting that Acts is peppered with tropes from Hellenistic romance novels but you haven't been able to establish this in any specific cases. Ditto for the supposed anachronisms in the Gospels. Your attempts to argue that the Gospels are anachronistic about the Pharisees and synagogues are a case in point. You were beating down a straw man with your long demonstration that the ancients believed their epics to be history because I already acknowledged that in my first post. I was basing my comments on what WE, modern readers, recognize to be the case. Of course as a non-believer you think that any piece of writing which features divine action is mythological. That's not what I mean by mythological.

I'm not familiar with the chronicles of Dictys and Dares. How exactly do they pass my criteria with flying colors, and if as I assume you're bringing it up as an example of something that looks like history but actually isn't, why exactly do historians reject them?

And how exactly do you think historians go about deciding whether something is historical or not? Clearly we both agree that external corroboration cannot be the by all end all because it cannot possibly be comprehensive.

And since you're so consistent in burdening me with straw men, I only think it fair to point out one of your own: your ridiculous caricature of how believing scholars go about examining Bible historicity. They do not rely uncritically on just one volume in the case of Acts. Have you even read the commentaries by F.F. Bruce, Joseph Fitzmyer, C.K. Barrett and Ben Witherington?

{{Have you even read the commentaries by F.F. Bruce, Joseph Fitzmyer, C.K. Barrett and Ben Witherington?}}

Personally, I would strongly add Hemer as a textbook example of historical analysis of an ancient document, using Acts (almost incidentally) as the document to be analyzed.

JRP

JD said: "Of course as a non-believer you think that any piece of writing which features divine action is mythological."

I think this is really what it comes down to. Just like BK says in the next post, those presuppositions can be killer.

How can anyone possibly know what the author believed or intended? By its genre and the prologue? But we have ancient fiction written as history, and those fictional historical poses also could be corroborated in many of their cultural backdrops. What criteria do you use to establish the historicity of Acts? Genre and corroboration of the cultural backdrop? That's a pretty loose definition of historicity -- does anyone apply such loose criteria even to so called secular "histories"? I can't think of any.

What ancient fiction are you thinking of that was "written as history"?

Yes, genre studies is a good place to begin the evaluation of a document. When we evaluate Acts in this light and as compared to other writings of ancient times, the evidence is very strong that the author wrote according to the conventions of ancient historiography, most likely Greek and Jewish. His use of chronology, speeches, indications of participation and/or an eye-witness source, the reference to prior works on the topic and distinguishing the present work, and, especially, the prologue explicitly stating a historiographical purpose all add up to a powerful case for Acts being written as ancient history.

This does not establish historicity, per se, but it lets us know that the author is making historical claims. It also gives us encouragement on some level because the author has and uses source material available to him. Obviously, this does not guarantee accuracy -- there were bad historians of course -- but it is encouraging. It means that the author meant to write historically and had the means to do so, depending on the value of his sources.


But the question we are trying to establish in the first place is whether Acts really is history. If all we need to establish that is history is (1) that prologue sounds like it is history and (2) there are a few historical genre bits in between all the Hellenistic Romance type stories then, then the argument is settled. There is no argument. Just a naive reading of an ancient text that would be laughed at in any class in an accredited university studying any non-biblical texts.

Which Hellenistic Romance did you have in mind as having a prologue like that found in Luke-Acts? There are some cross-over genre indicators held in common between ancient historiography and ancient romance, but there are important differences. Both genres involved narration and tried to write lively enjoyable stories. But when we focus on those characteristics of ancient romance distinct to that genre, we find significant differences, such as Luke's lack of romance and his undefinitive ending. When we focus on aspects of ancient historiography not common to ancient romance, we find Acts following ancient historiographical conventions such as the reliance on speeches, the reference to sources and predecessors, the emphasis on participation and/or eyewitness accounts in the narrative, and -- most of all -- a prologue explicitly stating historiographical purposes. This was not found in all ancient historiography, but it was common and we don't see these kinds of prologues in ancient romance. That is, I don't think we do. What examples do you have in mind?

So what do we make of the "chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian", for example? That is also presented as history and passes with flying colours according to your criteria.

I don't think you are earnestly trying to understanding JD's criteria.

In any event, neither of these documents is an ancient romance. They are basically fraudulent epic accounts of the Trojan War. There is a big difference between a fraud and an ancient romance. Further, these are examples of Roman forgeries, not Greek or Jewish literary examples. Perhaps more to the point, the evidence is overwhelming that these are frauds. No such comparable evidence is amassed against Acts.

If your point is only that not every claim by a document is to be accepted at face value, fine. But to what end and what weight does that have in our present discussion? The fact is that when it comes to ancient historiography, most prologues or autobiogrphaical statements that claim an intent to write history are sincere, even if ultimately there are inaccuracies and mistakes and bias. Was Xenophon really a Greek mercenary who participated in Cyrus' expedition? Was Polybius really a friend of Scipio? Did he really witness the capture of Carthage? Did Thucydides really fight in the Peloponnesian War? Was Tacitus really the son-in-law of the Governor of Britain? Did Agatharchides really have access to official Egyptian records at one time? Did Caesar really write about the Gallic War and the Civil War?

All these are self-reported claims by writers of ancient histories and are accepted by modern historians as true. That you can throw in some forgeries with obvious and extreme anachronisms and linguistic characteristics that couldn't have been written the same century they claim to be does not mean genre studies are without merit or that we can give no weight to anything written by someone claiming to write ancient history.

Acts claims to be writing ancient history. He shows many important similarities with ancient Greek and Jewish historiography. He shows many distinguishing characteristics from ancient romance. You have offered no evidence that it is a fraud that could not have possibly been written in the first century or at least based on accounts from the first century. When viewed as a question over what is most likely, rather than what desperate arguments can Neil conjure to deny the historiographical nature of Acts, the answer is obvious--Acts is ancient history.

How good it is or how historical its accounts actually are, is of course another question. But that is where the kind of confirmation offered in BK's original points fits in. We know that Acts likely was intended to be history. We know the claimed to have sources about what he wrote. It appears he claimed to be present for some of what he wrote about. Are there historically accurate statements we can verify that tell us that he succeeded in his intent? To what degree? What about inaccuracies and errors? How extreme are they? Are they the result of bad sources, confusion, elaboration, or sheer fabrication?

Sure, there are a lot of questions that go into the mix. But pretending that verified historical statements is irrelevant to evaluating Acts' historicity is entirely unconvincing.

I should add that those who have found Luke-Acts useful as ancient historiography is not limited to Christian apologists and NT scholars. Well-trained classicists have recognized the historical value of Acts.

Robin L. Fox, no friend to orthodox Christianity, write:

I regard it as certain, therefore, that he knew Paul and followed parts of his journey. He stayed with him in Jerusalem; he spent time in Caesarea, where he lodged with an early member of the Seven, Philip, who had four prophetic daughters, all virgins (Acts 21:8-9). It must have been quite an evening. He had no written sources, but in Acts he himself was a primary source for a part of the story. He wrote the rest of Acts from what individuals told him and he himself had witnessed, as did Herodotus and Thucydides; in my view, he wrote finally in Rome, where he could still talk to other companions of Paul, people like Aristarchus (a source for Acts 19:23 ff.; cf Acts 27:2, 17:1-15) or perhaps Aquila and Priscilla (whence 18). From Philip he could already have heard about the Ethiopian eunuch (Philip met him), or Stephen and the Seven (Philip was probably one), or the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea (Philip’s residence); from the prophet Agabus, whom he met at 21:10, could come knowledge of Agabus’ earlier prophecy in 11.28.

The Unauthorized Version, page 210.

Sherwin-White was an imminent Roman historian at Oxford and member of the British Academy. One of his books, Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, focuses on the earliest Christian documents’ relationship with the broader Roman context. Again and again he finds the New Testament documents to be worthy of a high level of trust. When it comes to Acts, for example, Sherwin-White states, "For Acts the confirmation of history is overwhelming" and that "any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted." Ibid., page 189

John Crook reviewed Sherwin-White's book Roman Society and Roman Laws for Classical Review and agreed that Acts is “an historical source talking about exactly the same world as Tacitus and Suetonius.” He thought that Sherwin-White’s work “support the authenticity in detail of Acts.” Classical Review 14 (1964): 198-200. Another reviewer, J. J. Nicholls, agreed with Sherwin-White that the Gospels and Acts “are to be treated as equally serious and valuable evidence” as other ancient historians, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus. Journal of Religious History (1964): 92-95.

The record has only gotten better for Acts since Sherwin-White's book.

JD, let's cut to the chase. Can or will you tell me if the following is your argument or not?

(1) We can determine a piece of writing is genuinely (even if not 100% accurate) historical on the grounds that it claims to be history and seems to be seriously and sincerely told.

(2) And the degree of accuracy of the historical account can be assessed by how accurately it gets its background geography and dates of rulers etc.

And secondly: do you agree that it is possible to forge a biography or diary or history?

If so, is it possible for a forger to succeed in getting enough cultural, geographic and historical details right yet still be telling a porkie?

Is it possible for someone, either a private individual or someone working on behalf a state organization or someone anywhere in between, to create a propaganda that is more untruths and half-truths than facts, yet still be plausible by virtue of the accuracy of the cultural etc background?

If any of these are even just a possibility, are there any implications for the methods and responsibilities historians should exercise when reading any document, even non-biblical ones?

Are you able to give direct answers to these questions, without a host of vague qualifiers that enable you to always reply that you never said something whenever your statements are critiqued?

Politicians rephrase their opponents questions by adding little qualifiers in what otherwise sounds like they are repeating their opponent's arguments, but they are in fact slightly twisting them or finding ways to side-step their points. But an honest scholar will not be so elusive but narrow down exactly what he means -- and if his clear concise statements and arguments are found wanting, will correct them without excuse.

Can you give a reply to my questions that is direct and straightforward?

If so, is it possible for a forger to succeed in getting enough cultural, geographic and historical details right yet still be telling a porkie.

This is all rather vague. What is "enough" right? What is a "porkie"?

In any event, it is not nearly as easy to get cultural, geographic, and historical details right as you suppose. Unlike today, there were no – or very few – reference books, encyclopedias, or textbooks available. As for geography, “exact and detailed geographical knowledge on the basis of maps and accurate descriptions of places was limited to a very tiny elite of soldiers, politicians and scholars, and even with them, personal knowledge of a place was irreplaceable.” Martin Hengel, “The Geography of Palestine in Acts,” in The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, page 31. Maps or other resources that were available were often wildly inaccurate. Even educated writers with connections to the areas they were writing about often demonstrated imperfect geographic or political knowledge. “That even educated Jews had little information about the geography of Palestine is clear from the imaginary description of Judea and Jerusalem in the Letter of Aristeas or that of the Holy City by Pseudo-Hecataeus; we can presuppose that even Philo had only a vague knowledge of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Holy Land, though he did visit it once in his life.” Id. at 29.

The problem for ancient writers was not limited to geography. There was a dizzying diversity of governments and officials throughout the Roman Empire. There were provinces; some controlled by the Senate and some controlled by the Emperor. Titles of the governors of these provinces varied (for examples, Proconsul, Prefect, and Procurator).

Adding to the diversity was the fact that many areas under Roman control were not provinces at all, but client kingdoms. King Herod’s reign over Palestine is an example. After his death, his kingdom was split up, with Rome eventually assuming direct control over Judea and Herod’s son becoming Tetrarch over Galilee. Because client kingdoms were given a freer hand in their internal administration, titles and offices were not uniform.

There were also a variety of cities. At the top were the coloniae civium romanorum, colonies of Roman citizens – mostly military veterans. Then there were the oppida civium romanorum, towns of Roman citizens. A step lower were “Latin” towns where the Roman franchise was within reach. Other cities, some prominent, were “free cities” and governed their own internal affairs.

There were differences in the city governments, depending on the type of city, its geographic location and its culture. Cities in the eastern Mediterranean especially “show much more variety in their local government, because they could keep older forms of municipal organization rather than imitate Rome.” Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pages 39-41. Even in Jerusalem, a city under direct Roman control, the Sanhedrin – a group of Jewish religious leaders – was given a prominent role in governing aspects of the city.

Adding to the confusion was the ever changing nature of government in the Roman Empire. “The titles sometimes did not remain the same for any great length of time; a province might pass from senatorial government to administration by a direct representative of the emperor, and would then be governed no longer by a proconsul but by an imperial legate (legatus pro praetore).” F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, page 82.

Cities might achieve their Roman franchise. Provinces may be split up. Client kingdoms may be split up with different parts being ruled in different ways. For example, Palestine after the reign of King Herod was split into a Roman Province ruled by a Prefect and to Galilee, ruled by a Tetrarch (as a client king).

Obviously, keeping oneself knowledgeable about so many different parts of the Roman Empire over any period of time would have been an almost insurmountable challenge. When it came to knowledge about where ordinary people were, what they were doing, and why they were doing it, the problem was even greater. Personal participation and/or excellent sources were often the only ways to get such details right.

IMO, the best explanation for the knowledge demonstrated in Acts by its author is either very good sources or personal participation, or both.

Bottom line: Any story, historical or fictional, can be placed in an accurate historical background. Accurate historical setting of the story (any genre) does not prove anything. It does not follow, it is a logical fallacy. Find one of Paul's magic handkerchiefs and then you can prove something.

Cute!

Post anonymously. Skip all argument. Distort the opposing position. Declare victory.

Arguments with you must not take much time.

Personally, I think Ron’s devils-advocate question about historical fiction would be worth discussing, though that would take attention away from the more active debate going on here.

Incidentally, my own answers to Neil’s cut-to-the-chase questions would be:

(1 and 2) I think any historian who believes there is such a thing as useful and accurate ancient histories would argue yes to these positions, though rather more complexly than that.

Obviously it is possible to forge a biography, diary or history.

Just as obviously, it is possible to forge a biography, diary or history that is indistinguishable from a non-forgery.

Perhaps not as obviously, sooner or later even a verisimilitudinous forger is going to pass a point in his verisimilitude where for all practical purposes he might as well be writing history. We could turn Neil’s question around the other way: do you agree that it is possible for a mid-2nd-century forger (let us say, for instance) to end up writing so accurately about early-mid 1st century events including the primary topics he is interested in presenting, that for all practical purposes we might as well treat the document as having been written by the type of contemporary historian he is pretending to be (even though we somehow had clear and persuasive evidence that in fact he isn’t who he is pretending to be)?

As to the propagandist who is primarily interested in untruths and halftruths--untruths and halftruths will typically out: our detection of those is one way we discern the mere propagandist from the legitimate-historian-with-a-cause. Mere plausibility at that point is irrelevant. Ideally, of course, the mere propagandist would succeed in creating a work so indistinguishable from history that it would be treated as such by serious historians without ever being discovered otherwise even in conjunctive analysis with data contemporary to the ostensible history. That’s probably possible; but then, by tautology, no one would be in a position to know otherwise, either. {s} And mere suspicions would be being routinely allayed by the skill and facility of the mere propagandist’s product.

Are there any implications from recognizing “any of these” as being even just a possibility, for the methods and responsibilities historians should exercise when reading any document, even non-biblical ones? Of course. But no one here was saying there weren’t such responsibilities (even when reading canonical texts). The relevant question is whether Acts passes muster in light of those methods and responsibilities.


Colin Hemer died just before completing his monumental survey and analysis The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1989, translated into English in 1990), so the conclusion summary had to be composited by his editor Conrad Gempf. But the concluding chapter is worth quoting in its fullness, to give a small idea of the scope, depth, sobriety and nuance of Hemer’s analysis. (I have included some of the text’s own footnotes as Gempfnotes in [brackets], and a few of my own notes and emendations similarly. Also, I have broken up the paragraphs into something a little easier on the eyes for internet reading. Any mis-spellings should be considered mine, not the American/British translator's.)

....... [chapter 10 starts here]

It seems odd and inappropriate that in an era in which our knowledge of the hellenistic world has grown significantly, there was for so long a pronounced lack of discussion about the relation of the Acts of the Apostles (the New Testament book that boasts the most ties to its milieu) to the world and history around it. It is especially unfortunate in that the vacuum seems to have been caused not by a lack of relevant evidence for consideration or the fruitful consummation of debate, but rather by exegetical and theological taste and fashion. Discussions on the subject begun before the First World War and interrupted by that event were left unfinished as interests turned to new methods and questions.

But the tide [as of 1989] is turning again, and not without good cause. There is a wealth of new data from inscriptions and papyri from the Graeco-Roman world which New Testament scholars are unwise to ignore. Moreover, the questions surrounding the book of Acts are of fundamental importance for our understanding of the historical background of the apostles, especially Paul, and of our understanding of the genesis of Christianity ([thus summarizing] Chapter 1).

After a brief preliminary investigation of various questions surrounding Luke-Acts (Chapter 2 [involving about 33 pages of analysis concerning the unity of Luke-Acts, the genre of Luke-Acts, the meaning of historicity, various approaches to the question, the textual problem, and sources for the context]), we were able to give a cautious assent to the appropriateness of asking about the relationship between historical method in Acts and that in ancient historiography in general (Chapter 3).

It is not that we have particular literary parallels which demand such comparisons, but rather there is a common world of traditions and conventions which the author of Acts seems to share with other ancient writers of allegedly historical narratives. In particular, we have stressed that, contrary to modern opinion on the subject, ancient historians were capable of very rigorous and critical methods and principles, even if their views on what types of sources were most trustworthy were not the same as ours. [Gempfnote: Such as the favouring of eyewitness reports over written evidence, and the stress on interviews, travel and participation.]

There was, furthermore, a vast diversity of historical practice, even in the scraps of literature that have survived. We cannot simply assume that, because it was an ancient work, it is therefore impossible that the narrative of Acts (or reported speeches) is historically reliable. As with any historian, ancient or modern, we may expect certain tendencies, but the work must stand or fall in its own right. [Gempfnote: Acts is, after all, a unique work, unprecedented in its historical interest in chronicling the growth of a religious movement.] And although it is often said that ancient standards of historiography differ radically from modern ones, the two are not completely incompatible, and the modern questions of accuracy and the like remain important ones to ask, even if they must be answered negatively. If forced to choose between them, we must in this respect prefer a Haenchen, who at least discusses the historicity of the narrative even if he frequently ends by dismissing it, to a Diibelius, seeking to postpone indefinitely the question of the ‘real events’ in favour of extended literary matters. If Luke was a praiseworthy historian by ancient standards, but useless to us in our attempts to reconstruct an accurate picture of the early church, so be it; but we want to know that. The picture may not be so bleak, however.

From the general discussion of historiography and method, we turned to the knowledge displayed and related in the Book of Acts (Chapters 4, 5. [Note: this vast analysis classified examples as: common knowledge, specialized knowledge, specific local knowledeg, correlations of date with ostensible chronology, details broadly suggestive of date, correlations between Acts and Epistles, latent internal correlations within Acts, details involving differences between Alexandrian and Western texts, unstudied allusions, differences of formulations within Acts, peculiar selection of detail, immediacy in details, idioms or cultural features suggestive of date of composition, interrelated complexes leading to larger areas of historical reconstruction, new background information, and uncheckable details.])

Here we discovered a wealth of material suggesting an author or sources familiar with the particular locations and at the times in question. Many of these connections have only recently come to light with the publication of new collections of papyri and inscriptions. We considered these details from various, often overlapping perspectives, risking repetitiveness, since our interest was not primarily in the details themselves, but rather in the way that they supported and confirmed different ways of reading the text--various levels in the relationship of the narrative with the history it purports to describe.

By and large, these perspectives all converged to support the general reliability of the narrative, through the details so intricately yet often unintentionally woven into that narrative. [Gempfnote: the major exception being the ‘Theudas problem’ (pp 162-63), which, even if a genuine historical error, would not be of sufficient magnitude to call into question the basic credibility of the author.]

Similarly, the ostensible chronological framework of Paul’s life presented in Acts can be seen to mesh well, even if somewhat tightly, with the events and details mentioned in the Epistles (Chapter 6)--if the best variation of the South Galatia theory is accepted (Chapter 7). [Gempfnote: And we have seen that all too often critics have interacted with less effective alternatives, dismissing the whole enterprise prematurely.] This involves a synthesis of three elements: (1) a South Galatian destination for the epistle; (2) an early, pre-Council date for it; and (3) the identification of Gal 1 with the visit in Acts 9, and Gal 2 with Acts 11.

The straightforward interpretation of Acts along these lines complements very well the time-tables and geography which can be teased from Paul’s own writings and we have responded to a number of the objections. We have also shown abundant evidence that ‘Galatia’ can refer to the larger provincial area and that the ethnic title ‘Galatian’ would have been applicable to the Pauline churches in the south.

The only possible difficulty remaining [in this topic] is the ‘concurrent view’ of Gal 1:8-2:1, which is, in any case, a specific understanding of an ambiguous passage, rather than a re-interpretation of an otherwise plain text. [Gempfnote: The tightness of the chronology cannot be regarded as a serious obstacle, but rather as a datum of the problem, and that can be incorporated in any one of a variety of unremarkable ways (pp 261-67).]

We have thus been able to work out a chronology of Paul which contradicts neither the Epistles nor Acts, covering the years AD 50-62, and a more tentative reconstruction of the period c. AD 30-50.

In terms of the theologies of the two authors, there are, of course, differences of emphases and understanding, but these are expected when dealing with any two writers, especially when their works are of such different genres and purposes as the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of Paul. If a theory does justice to both sets of evidence, it should be examined carefully; the boat has not been ‘shipwrecked’ on the rocks of Greek grammar, nor on theologies, nor ethnic titles, nor any of the other navigational hazards; but many have abandoned the ship before sailing.

Only after the chronological and geographical ties between the book and the period about which it tells have been established did we deal with the question of authorship (Chapter 8). Here the we-passages are the most significant pieces of the puzzle. Alternative interpretations having been shown as invalid, we are left only with the possibilities that the author of the final version was a participant in some of the actions or that he was making a false claime to have been. The latter position is shown unlikely by the anonymous nature of the book and the merely sporadic nature of the claims. If, then, the author was an eyewitness and companion of Paul, it is not unlikely that the traditional attribution of the book to Luke is correct. [Gempfnote: Although this external evidence is really all we have to go on; arguments from medical language and the sort are indecisive.] On the matter of sources, we have argued that it is most likely that participation and the testimony and interview of eyewitnesses were employed whenever possible, perhaps accounting for some of the distinctive features in Lukan accounts.

We have also argued for a relatively early date for Luke-Acts, AD 62 (Chapter 9). We presented a list of fifteen features which suggest an early setting (pp 376-82), and the ‘immediacy’ of the later chapters in Acts taken together with the peculiar ending to the book make such a date highly probable. We have worked out in some detail how this suggested date would fit in with the Hauptbriefe and with the events hinted at in the Pastorals, if those letters are based upon good traditions. [Gempfnote: Even if, however, a later date [for Acts] is accepted, this would in no way affect the arguments advanced in the previous chapters regarding the historical character of the narrative.]

The conclusions that result from all this work may be regarded as unfashionable as, indeed, only a few years ago, would the inquiry itself; clearly the time has come for a change. Much good work has been done in the area of Luke’s theological interests, but the historical questions are not thereby answered nor can they be thereby ignored. As our knowledge of hellenistic history continues to grow through the discovery and publication of new inscriptions and other evidence, our picture of early Christianity and the documents it inspired will naturally grow accordingly.

....... [End conclusions chapter from Hemer/Gempf.]

JRP

Anon said: Any story, historical or fictional, can be placed in an accurate historical background. Accurate historical setting of the story (any genre) does not prove anything. It does not follow, it is a logical fallacy. . . .

Layman responded: Skip all argument. . . .

Neil's comment: Anon is not skipping an argument at all. Anon is presenting a very powerful argument. Can you explain why it fails in your view as an argument?

Anon said: Find one of Paul's magic handkerchiefs and then you can prove something.

Layman said: Distort the opposing position.

Neil's comment: Anon is poking some fun at the absence of corroborating evidence for the core narrative (not the narrative's cultural setting) in Acts. But the point is clear. It is a mocking rejoinder, but the point is not a distortion. There is no corroborating evidence for any of the narrative in Acts -- only for its cultural background. To that extent it is no more valid than fiction.

Until you address this core argument head on -- as a principle and as a criterion and as a logical proposition -- Anon really does have the victory.

Neil

Neil,

See my rather two lengthy responses to you above. Which you now appear to be finding an excuse to "skip" over.

Layman said...

Neil,

See my rather two lengthy responses to you above. Which you now appear to be finding an excuse to "skip" over.

Neil:

I read them Layman.

That's why I got back to the basics and asked for a direct answer if I understood correctly what your basic argument is. You will not tell my summary of your argument is correct or not.

I have no intention of getting bogged down in details if we cannot agree what the principle we are debating actually is. If we can agree on a clear point we are debating then I will proceed to address the specific questions with that as our anchor.

So can you tell me if my summary of your position was correct or not?

That's also why I chose to concede for the sake of argument that all of my specific points were debatable and therefore not grounds for establishing an agreed on principle or criteria by which we could establish historicity across biblical and nonbiblical documents alike.

I appreciate Ron's arguments too. He has chosen at least to concede my points re criteria in principle. Rather than apply them to Acts, however, he has turned the question around for one for me to answer. Or rather, for a whole series of questions for me to answer.

What I understand from both your responses is this:

No-one here is prepared to agree to apply to Acts principles that are applied to establish historicity to nonbiblical documents.

Instead, what is argued is a list of many questions and points that apply specifically to Acts and that set Acts in a category of its own as far as determining its historical value is concerned. Whether one agrees or not that Acts is historically valid depends on whether one agrees with the general thrust of those specific questions and points that apply exclusively to Acts. (These questions are listed in yours and Ron's lengthy responses.)

Each of those points and questions is debatable or holds many possible answers. I am sure we can debate them till the cows come home and never agree.

So that makes the whole point of finding an objective criteria that applies to secular histories -- and that we can also apply to biblical history -- so important.

But the point of criteria, or principle, which is a question of basic logic, which is easily and readily accepted as basic history method 101 by historians of secular histories, is avoided by you guys. The one partial exception being Ron.


I will happily answer questions about specifics if we can agree on what the basic criteria should be for determining historicity in documents, both biblical or nonbiblical.

You have made your criteria plain, I think. So I have asked if my summary is correct. Unless you confirm my understanding of your argument, or clarify it simply so that it remains a general principle that can be applied to all history, including secular history, then we have way of establishing any agreement.


Neil

Last phrase was meant to say "then we have no way of establishing any agreement"

Second line was meant to read:
You will not tell me if my summary of your argument is correct or not.

I should also change my question to one of not asking for us to agree on criteria, but a much simpler one. Is my understanding of your criteria for historicity of Acts correct:

That is, that if the background details are right, and if it appears to be in historical genre, then that is sufficient criteria to establish historicity.

Is that correct? Can that simple proposition be answered without turning it around with a dozen other questions for me?

I find this argument to be rather silly. The book of Acts claims to be real history. The leaders of the church recognized it as history. While any work (fiction or non-fiction) can be set into an historical setting, when the book claims to be an account from the writer's personal investigation of what took place (and others understood it to be exactly that from the very earliest), it seems reasonable to understand the accuracy of the setting as providing proof of the accuracy of the events. This is especially true where those who generally oppose the authenticity of the book claim that it was written a hundred years after the events described. It is also especially true when those who make claims that it is not accurate are surprised time and time again as other findings prove, to to the extent possible, the accuracy of the information.

You can suppose yourself to death, but the question isn't whether it's possible that it's a work of fiction, but whether it's likely. I think (and the vast majority of people who I have ever seen who study these things think) that it is very unlikely that it was intended to be fiction.

Neil,

You are in essence refusing to respond to any of my arguments. I gave you the courtesy of point-by-point responses, you refuse to do the same.

I like how you want to avoid the "details." No wonder you are confused about genre studies.

BK said...
"when the book claims to be an account from the writer's personal investigation of what took place ... it seems reasonable to understand the accuracy of the setting as providing proof of the accuracy of the events."

I don't think that claims+accurate settings=proof

Many holy books make autheticity claims and have accurate settings...

Anonymous,

I agree that "claims+accurate settings" doesn't equal proof. However, when coupled with the fact that the book has been accepted from the very beginning as truth and authoritative then you have a different animal altogether.

What other holy books are you claiming take place in an historical setting with the claim by the author to be retelling history? The Koran? Of course not. The Koran does not attempt to put what Mohammed said into any type of historical record. Rather, the Koran is almost exclusively the revelations to Mohammed from God without any witnesses or evidence. The Bible, and specifically the book of Acts, is based on historical events written near the time of the occurances when people who were there could say "no, it didn't happen that way."

So, exactly what other "holy book" are you referencing? And are you also saying (like neil) that the Book of Acts is historical fiction? If so, can you find me someone from the period of approximately 100-500 A.D. who makes that assertion? I don't think you will.

Neil,

You still have not presented us with your own criteria for historicity. Don't make some vague appeal to 'History 101' or 'simple logics' (I actually heard NP Lemche use the latter phrase). If you had a document from the ancient world that you had never seen before, what features of that text would lead you to conclude that it was to one degree or another historically accurate?

This comment has been removed by the author.

BK,

They are not interested in "the details." Apparently, "the details" (i.e., the evidence, the facts) get in the way of healthy skepticism.

BK said:I find this argument to be rather silly. The book of Acts claims to be real history. The leaders of the church recognized it as history. . . .

Neil's response: I am asking for assurance to see if I am correct in my understanding of basic criteria being argued here for historicity.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that different criteria should be used to establish historicity.

Your criteria for historicity appear to be:

(1) that the book itself gives strong assurances that it is real history,

and (2) that a book must have a long tradition of being widely accepted by the Christian religion as genuine history.

Layman wrote: You are in essence refusing to respond to any of my arguments. . . .

Neil's response: No, I am conceding all the points I have made to you for the sake of argument. That is a very generous response to your points.

So I am asking you to tell me if my brief encapsulation of your position on what is the fundamental criteria of historicity is a correct and fair definition. You do not deny it so I presume it is.

In sum
Criteria for historicity of nonbiblical and biblical narratives:

1. The narrative must appear to be written in some form of historical genre and make a claim to being historical;

2. The background against which the narrative is set must be mostly accurate in its details;

3. If the above two points are regarded as silly, then an option is to accept a narrative as historical if it:

(a) makes strong claims to being historical,

and (b) has long been widely accepted by the Christian church as historical.

If we can all agree that those are valid criteria for historicity then we can proceed with the argument and we can get into details. But let me know first if we all agree on these criteria -- or if we agree on 1 and 2 together, or just point 3.

Looking forward to getting into details once we all agree on a criteria by which to judge whether a biblical or nonbiblical narrative and its details is historically accurate.


Thanks,
Neil

Neil "Don't bog me down with the details" Godfrey,

I stated my position and you certainly have not accepted it for the sake of argument or in any other sense. If you want a discussion, please go ahead and address the points I made rather than your truncated assumptions about my point. Then, if when responding to my points, there needs to be clarification we can deal with it then.

You made assertions. Specific ones about romantic fiction and frauds in ancient literature. I responded to them vigorously and specifically. You ignored the response and are trying recast an argument that does not need recasting.

Frankly, it looks like you are looking for a way out of some arguments you really can't defend or at least need more time to research to check to see if you can find some sort of response. If you need time, just ask for it or take it. There is no game clock for either side.

I'm not much in the mood for games now. I have four depositions out of town next week and much to do between now and then.

Layman,

Thank you for the insulting phrasing of my name in your introduction.

You say have stated your position but after several attempts of mine I cannot persuade you to give me a simple Yes or No as to whether my phrasing of your position is a correct understanding of it.

The original point and point I am trying to keep to was the criteria used to establish historicity.

I have asked you to confirm if my understanding of your position regarding criteria is valid. You have not responded except now to say that my understanding is "truncated assumption" and that I am "recasting the debate".

If so, then explain to me simply what your criteria are, and cast it back exactly as you see fit -- in clear and simple terms of principle and criteria as can be expected in any debate among historians.

I take it you are not interested in establishing any agreed upon criteria which can apply to both biblical and nonbiblical histories.

Until we agree on the criteria and rules of historicity first, then your challenge leaves you open to make up the rules or the criteria as we go along. No-one accepts debates on those conditions.

Neil

bk,

I don't think that claims+accurate settings+accepted by followers as truth and authoritative=proof

Realians have their writings how their founder met Yahweh/Elohim in an volcano crater Puy de Lassolas in France. You can visit the place. Orthodox Samaritans believe that their Torah (at least the 6th book) was a historical book.

bk said
are you also saying (like neil) that the Book of Acts is historical fiction?
My opinion is about this is irrelevant to this discussion

bk said:
can you find me someone from the period of approximately 100-500 A.D. who makes that [Acts as fiction] assertion ?
Followers of Cybele/Attis and Zalmoxis did not believe Paul's message was the truth. They believed in a different path to salvation. Some Romans letters tell that many Romans and Emperors saw Christianity as superstition.

Neil,

You still haven't given us YOUR criteria! What are they?

Anon (directly above),

You still haven't pointed to anyone who thought that the book of Acts was fiction. Of course followers of the mystery cults didn't think that Paul's message was the truth, and Romans saw Christianity as a superstition. That's neither here nor there. We want the name (or names) of a specific person in the period 100-500 A.D. who made the specific charge that the book of Acts is a hoax or fiction, or some scholar who insisted that it should be read allegorically.

Neil "spare me the details" Godfrey,

Odd that you find it an insulting description when it was lifted from your own argument. When you serve them up like that, I don't see that I have an obligation to ignore them.

I have made several comments about your arguments on establishing historicity. You are ignoring them and trying to reset the argument. Frankly, I don't blame you given your previous assertions. But I would prefer that we continue the discussion that was already in process rather than stopping that one, ignoring all that I wrote in direct response to you, and letting you reframe another debate.

And if you have criteria, why not articulate them yourself. So far, your criteria seems to be something along these lines: Since there were some frauds in ancient literature, there is at least the possibility that Acts -- despite claiming to be history, despite including many historically accurate points in its narratives, and despite being accepted as history by its readers -- is a fraud and therefore it is not historical.

This reminds me of an episode of friends, where Ross, the paleontologist, learned that Phoebe did not believe in evolution. Ross could not leave that alone so he kept trying to argue the issue with Phoebe in detail. Then:

ROSS: Ok, Phoebe, this is it. In this briefcase I carry actual scientific facts. A briefcase of facts, if you will. Some of these fossils are over 200 million years old.

PHOEBE: Ok, look, before you even start, I'm not denying evolution, ok, I'm just saying that it's one of the possibilities.

ROSS: It's the only possibility, Phoebe.

PHOEBE: Ok, Ross, could you just open your mind like this much, ok? Wasn't there a time when the brightest minds in the world believed that the world was flat? And, up until like what, 50 years ago, you all thought the atom was the smallest thing, until you split it open, and this like, whole mess of crap came out. Now, are you telling me that you are so unbelievably arrogant that you can't admit that there's a teeny tiny possibility that you could be wrong about this?

ROSS: There might be, a teeny, tiny, possibility.

PHOEBE: I can't believe you caved.

ROSS: What?

PHOEBE: You just abandoned your whole belief system. I mean, before, I didn't agree with you, but at least I respected you. How, how, how are you going to go into work tomorrow? How, how are you going to face the other science guys? How, how are you going to face yourself? Oh! That was fun. So who's hungry?

Yes, there is an eerie resemblance between Godfrey's comments and Phoebe's inability to think scientifically.

What's at stake is not whether there is the slightest possibility that Acts is a forgery or fiction (of course there is). The point is whether we have GOOD REASONS to think that it is. These might be found along several lines: 1) if ancient readers thought it was, 2) if it is brimming with gross anachronisms, 3)if it conforms to the standard tropes of an ancient fictional genre, such as the romance novel, etc. None of these applies to Acts. So again: it remains a possibility that Acts is fiction or forgery, but an UNLIKELY possibility. And that should be enough for any historian.

Neil,

{{I appreciate Ron's arguments too. He has chosen at least to concede my points re criteria in principle. Rather than apply them to Acts, however, he has turned the question around for one for me to answer. Or rather, for a whole series of questions for me to answer.}}

I think you’re talking about me there, not Ron. (I appreciated Ron’s devil’s advocate question and thought it would be worth discussing, but didn’t actually discuss it.) No foul, just getting the provenance straight. {s}

I think I only asked you two questions in return, the overt one being meant as being illustrative of a technical point: even if forgery per se becomes established, this in itself is not enough in principle to abrogate the content for historical purposes.

The subsequent implicit question is simply a recognition that the charge of mere propaganda has to rely on evidence to that effect, since in principle even a mere propagandist could write a text functionally indistiguishable, even to the analysis of trained historians, from legitimate history. The mere fact that this is technically possible (though not very probable, given that un/halftruths by tautology don’t actually correspond with the actual truth and so will always be inherently vulnerable to disconfirmation), is not sufficient historiographical grounds for treating any claim of ancient history as being factually or principly equivalent to ancient fiction.

Perhaps the excerpted chapter from Hemer would count as “a whole series of questions” for you to answer. I thought it counted as a summary report of a particular (and highly respected) whole book’s worth of answer to your question about responsible methodology. Hemer demonstrates in a detailed fashion how to apply professional historiographic technique to Acts for purposes of a nuanced evaluation of its content and how the document should be treated by professional historians subsequently. The summary report is only a summary report of the discussion and analysis (much less of the details analyzed), but it gives a basic idea of how the process went.

{{No-one here is prepared to agree to apply to Acts principles that are applied to establish historicity to nonbiblical documents.}}

Hemer did, which is what I was reporting as one example of the application. (Other people here know of others; this just happens to be the example I’m most familiar with.)

I’m trying to figure out how comparing a text to other texts in order to get an idea of its genre, and how considering a wide variety of ancient claims to history (including ancient historiographical practice) in comparison with an ancient text purporting to do something similar, and how categorizing and analyzing the types of data found in the text (including a consideration of mistakes or internal contradictions), and how doing all this in light of known textual issues regarding transmission of the text through extant copies (with discussion of those issues to decide relevancy and application of those relevancies where relevance is decided), and how comparing a text’s data with another well-known set of textual data purporting to cover the same incidents, and how discussing how to date the text and grade its traditional claims to authorship, and discussing what the data implies in regard to sources for the authorship of the text-- {inhale}

--how, exactly, are all of these principles only supposed to apply to Acts and not to analysis of non-biblical sources?!

The only obvious answer I can think of to that question is, ‘Because Acts is the text being currently discussed and analzyed by application of those principles and not some other text.’ Which seems like a rather ‘duh’ answer: the discussion is about Acts, not about Suetonius, and the analysis is of Acts, not of Tacitus’ Annals.

If the complaint is that we’re talking about Acts, then the answer is: go away and don’t talk about Acts. If the complaint is that principles aren’t being applied to analysis of Acts that are applied to analysis of other ancient texts, then the answer is: actually yes, professionals do in fact apply the same principles to Acts that are applied to analysis of other ancient texts, and still come away with a favorable evaluation of the reliability of the text’s author at doing what he seems (prima facie) to be doing.

This isn’t easy to just plop down for examination in a comment thread, though, because the principles being put into play by professional historians are far more complex than you seem to be suggesting or expecting they are.

{{Unless you confirm my understanding of your argument, or clarify it simply so that it remains a general principle that can be applied to all history, including secular history, then we have [no] way of establishing any agreement. }}

In Hemer’s analysis, he proceeded according to the following eleven methodological guidelines (which I will quote at length, replacing particular data of author and text with generic labels):

....... [excerpt from Hemer, pp47-49]

(1) We cannot base far-reaching conclusions simplistically upon confirmatory or discrepent detail. We are concerned first to know the qualities of the text, in general and in principle. This is not inconsistent with developing a refined and qualified estimate, but such a judgment must be broadly based and well-substantiated rather than derived from an atomized qualification of harmonizations or contraditions.

(2) It is then appropriate to ask whether the author is habitually and in general a trustworthy source by the standards of his day, whether he exhibits accuracy or inaccuracy of mind, a general conscience for, or a general disregard of, historical fact. Again, the pattern may not be simple. He may prove inconsistent, or vary markedly according to his source. The answer may again have to be a refined one, broadly based on the assessment of his methods and performance.

(3) It is important to decide whether the narrative gives an essentially accurate chronological outline, but this does not involve the strictly chronological sequence of every detail. This is a subject for further study. There is for instance a wide difference between the principles of arrangement appropriate to an episodic or anecdotal narrative and those appropriate to a sequential narrative. Chronological arragement is itself but one variety of arrangement, and sufficient attention must be paid to it in a historical account. But the natural complexity of events and the needs of explanatory recapitulation and anticipation preclude the rigid linearity of events which figures in some critical expectations. Yet explicit notes of time and the distinctness of ostensibly separate incidents are to be pressed. If for instance we are persuaded that a series of visits to a city in the text are doublets of the same events or that one or both are seriously misplaced, such views are to be seen as strong points against historicity.

(4) Narratives are embodied in natural, phenomenological language, which is not to be judged by over-literal criteria. Though independent sources for the same incidents may not be commonly available in the text, it will not not necessarily matter for historicity if such cases exhibit varying details and perspectives, provided the differences are not radically contradictory. Indeed, we should be concerned to force neither harmonization nor contradiction, if only because we stand in too distant an external position to possess a completeness of context on which such decisions are likely to depend. There may be places where we have enough information to attempt a positive fit. Otherwise we are wise to be cautious.

(5) The possibility of interlocking sources is however important, notably in the larger relationship of a text with other texts purporting to recount events (some of them the same events) for the same characters during the same apparent span of time; not in the narrow sense of harmonization, but in considering whether the different strands together contribute to the enlargement of a broadly consistent picture. If this is to be found to be a fruitful approach, this factor tells in favour of historicity, broadly conceived; if conversely the narrative is not historical, we should expect a lack of patterned correlation and illumination from the approach. But it remains difficult to reverse the latter proposition, to prove a negative verdict from negative evidence.

(6) Historicity is not necessarily at stake in the phenomena of incomplete or selective narrative. There is again a background in ancient theory, to which we must return. Omissions may need to be amenable to very different kinds of explanation: one of them may even be the lack of evidence meeting appropriate criteria; not mere ignorance, but belief of knowledge which falls short of a requisite selected standard of authentication. To suggest such a thing of a text may seem to beg the question, but we are not asserting this, merely mentioning the possibility as one existing in ancient historiographical theory, even if neglected in modern simplistic assumptions about the so-called ‘pre-critical’ method.

(7) It is an inescapable question of historicity whether or not miracles related in an ancient text happened. The issue is not always necessarily clear-cut. The author may be ambiguous in what he means us to interpret as miraculous, and we are not necessarily committed to the author’s interpretations. But, apart from the occasional doubtful case, the acceptance or rejection of the miracles, or of individual miracles, is a matter whose crucial implications for historicity we cannot minimize. The fact that it is such a sensitive matter only reinforces the delicacy needed in unravelling the issues.

(8) It is also an essential question of historicity whether or not the substance of the speeches in Acts is authentic. It is crucial to note the distinction implied in the phrase ‘the substance of the speeches’, for even if we accept this, we shall say they are not transcriptions, but accounts rewritten in the author’s own style. The issue of historicity here lies between the view tthat they are summaries of events and that they are constructs independent of the substance of what was actually said on some historical occasion.

(9) An important issue is the assessment of precision and of approximation in the reporting of details. Neither lends itself to a simple evaluation. Inconsequential details may give scope for checking with external evidence, and are less amenable to the explanation from theological Tendenz, but some would see such specifics as personal names as insertions created by the expansive tendencies of the laws of tradition. Approximation, too, even vagueness, is open to evident attack, but may also be due to the careful reserve of the writer who will not specify beyond the limits or credentials of his evidence. In fact both specificity and approximation may be used in opposite directions. A natural balance between inconsequential precision and reserve may be the expression of an accurate mind, but the probabilities must be carefully weighed before identifying this or a contrary pattern in the profile of the evidence.

(10) It should not need repeating that the presence of a theological motif is not necessarily a disproof of historicity. All sophisticated history is in its degree interpretive, and history and theology may not necessarily conflict, but run on parallel lines. The simplistic use of the argument against historicity on this score is a radical non sequitur, and while we recognize that reputable scholarship does not usually fall into such crudities, the danger is pervasive and often latent, and all the steps in the argument need to be established, and none the less when the position defended is deemed ‘critical’ rather than ‘traditional’. It is a pity if the ‘critical’ position is less than rigorously presented because its popularity renders it less open to debate. The historical issue may where possible need to be settled apart from the theological.

(11) Our working view of historicity is thus descriptive and pragmatic rather than definitive, and involves bringing the preceding points into the modern perspective. Our real interest is to know what use we can make of an ancient text as a historical source for events that it claims to relate. We need an estimate of its qualities; along the main lines of cleavage outlined above, and with due regard to the text’s own cultural context, which will enable us to handle it critically, in the best and most open sense of that word.

....... [end excerpt from Hemer]

Frankly, this looks to be (and Hemer intended it to be) the criteria and methodology “easily and readily accepted as basic history method 101 [or 501 perhaps {g}] by historians of secular histories”. Hemer isn’t avoiding it; and other scholars have done the same thing. It isn’t a single general principle, but the methodology “can be applied to all history, including secular history” (with an avowed topical focus on evaluating ancient sources).

It will be noticed that this is far more complex, though not discontinuous with, what you thought JD’s criteria was: “[T]hat if the background details are right, and if it appears to be in historical genre, then that is sufficient criteria to establish historicity.”

Nor is it discontinuous with “(1) We can determine a piece of writing is genuinely (even if not 100% accurate) historical on the grounds that it claims to be history and seems to be seriously and sincerely told. (2) And the degree of accuracy of the historical account can be assessed by how accurately it gets its background geography and dates of rulers etc.”

Which of course is precisely why I said, “I think any historian who believes there is such a thing as useful and accurate ancient histories would argue yes to these positions, though rather more complexly than that.”

The real sticking problem here, is that where a person has a constraint about what must be regarded as impossible, then apparent historical claims to the contrary must in proportion be graded as being inaccurate.

I don’t say this in order to denigrate the constraint (metaphysics is my own primary forte, after all). I say this in proper recognition of the role this plays in a person’s evaluation of an ostensible historical claim-set.

Even then, though, the options can be a lot broader than uselessness or nefariousness. Acts, broadly speaking and excepting a couple of incidents (the Ascension of Christ and perhaps the speaking in tongues at Pentacost), is quite low-key so far as miraculous claims go. Much-or-all of the remaining incidents could be explained as misunderstandings of various sorts without palpably affecting the basic usefulness of the text. Indeed, depending on the scope of interest, the usefulness may be completely independent of the offending material: those Sherwin-White references mentioned earlier are a good example. A Roman historian is going to use Acts as a sourcebook for examples of early/mid 1st century legal proceedings within the Empire, and probably also for helping build a history (along with other sources) of who was governing where and when within the slices of time and space being referenced in the story, and isn’t going to give a feather in a firestorm that the book opens with a raised-from-the-dead-god-man going up into the sky to be received by a cloud.

JRP

This comment has been removed by the author.

Whoops, double-posted somehow. Duplicate has been deleted.

JRP

Anonymous said:

Realians have their writings how their founder met Yahweh/Elohim in an volcano crater Puy de Lassolas in France. You can visit the place. Orthodox Samaritans believe that their Torah (at least the 6th book) was a historical book.

With respect to Orthodox Samatians, that religious group is primarily an offshoot (I believe an aberration) from Judaism, so the fact that their Torah (which is largely the same books as the Jewish Torah) is historical is not too surprising.

The Raelians are another fascinating group. Let me tell you this: I believe that the fact that he describes an event (supposedly in history) and is able to accurately describe the places associated makes the story more believable. The account, however, can be readily differentiated from Christianity. The problem with the Raelian story is the same problem that occurs with Mormonism and Islam: the event in history occurs only before one witness. In the case of Mormonism, the angel appeared to Joseph Smith and no one else and the angel (while supposedly being an angel of the same God described in the Bible) contradicted some of the teachings of the Bible. In Islam, the angel appeared to Mohammed and no one else and the angel (while supposedly being an angel of the same God described in the Bible) contradicted the Bible. In Raelism, the angel appeared to Rael (aka Claude Vorilhon) and no one else and the angel (while supposedly being an angel of the same God described in the Bible) contradicted the Bible.

In Biblical Christianity, Jesus appeared to many people, performed miracles before many people, self-volitionally resurrected from the dead, and was witnessed resurrected by many people. The disciples went out to the world as the witnesses and referenced others who had also seen the risen Christ. Moreover, Jesus fulfilled the prophesies and confirmed earlier Biblical teachings that were difficult to reconcile prior to His arrival. Big difference.

Followers of Cybele/Attis and Zalmoxis did not believe Paul's message was the truth. They believed in a different path to salvation. Some Romans letters tell that many Romans and Emperors saw Christianity as superstition.

JD already said what I would say to that.

bk,

First you claim:
claims+accurate settings=proof

Then it was:
claims+accurate settings+accepted by followers as truth and authoritative=proof

Now it is:
claims+accurate settings+accepted by followers as truth and authoritative+more claims by many people=proof

This proof seem to be a moving target.

Anonymous,

You need to read a bit more carefully. I never claimed what you are now claiming I claimed. But so we don't leave it to an endless argument about what I previously said, let me make it clear:

The reason that the Book of Acts can be seen as historical is a composite of factors including, but not by way of limitation, to the fact that the Book itself claims to be the result of the search of the author into what actually happened, the author was virtually unanimously identified by the early church as Luke -- the author of the third Gospel and companion of Paul -- who is believed to have finished the book in about 62 A.D. (as evidenced, in part, by its sudden ending). The book was immediately accepted by the early church as authoritative. People who were eyewitnesses to the life of Christ such as Peter and John were apparently still alive at the time the book was written and were probably used as sources. While some doubted the truth of its claims, there is no evidence within the first 500 years of its writing of anyone claiming that it is a forgery or intended to be a fictional work. The facts that can be checked in the book of Acts prove that the author was accurate as to those things.

With all of that going for it -- including its widespread and nearly unanimous acceptance of the book as both historical and authoritative, it seems to me that you, or anyone else claiming that the book is akin to a work of fiction, has the burden of providing evidence of such claims. Merely saying "it could be a forgery" is not enough. Likewise, merely pointing that other holy books may have a historical setting (and those are few and far between) is not enough to prove that Luke was intended as a work of fiction or was a forgery.

Anon said: "This proof seem to be a moving target."

Of course it is. Layman laid down the rules for any discussion earlier, saying quite directly that he would explain further and clarify any "principle" as we went along -- but not in advance!

But Layman also said that any comment I make will be something "conjured up" and a "desperate claim" and done in "pretense", so we know that any challenge to their faith will never be taken seriously but always as another challenge from the devil that has to be cast down.

This fact has been underscored by Layman's accusation that I am not really trying to understand JD. So in response I ask JD pointedly if my summary is accurate or not, but both JD and Layman refuse to help me and accuse me of arguing all sorts of nasties.

But I do concede one thing, Layman has convinced me by his many lengthy discussions of the "detail" that he complains I won't address that the author of Acts definitely and truly lived this side of c.e. in the Roman Empire and was a product of the education and cultures he experienced in his lifetime.

I find it too much of an eyestrain to read lengthy passages on a computer so I also concede some of my responses till now have missed some vital points along the way.

So what I have done is taken a little time to print out the original post and following discussion, and have read it all afresh. I am in the process of composing a summary, which I have found actually quite enlightening.

(I know, some must think I'm a masochist, but really it has been interesting seeing the different approaches of various believers in this context.)

I will post it somewhere soon.

Uh, Neil . . .? You do realize that Anon was addressing his comment to me, don't you?

Even so, I have stated, above, my position. If you would like to leapfrog from that with me, then go ahead.

Be advised, however, that while you may find it amusing to "the different approaches of various believers in this context", I find it amusing that you don't see the fact that we are all making the same basic argument using different details. I also find it amusing that your entire argument seems to be "it could be a fraud or fiction" without any real evidence to support it. I also find it amusing that you are trying to shift the burden of proof when you are the one making the claim that stands against the accepted view that the book is intended to be historical and was written by someone who believed it was historical.

Yes, BK, I do realize Anon was talking to you. I chimed in agreeing with him.

I'm interested that you find my position "amusing" -- like the gnostic Jesus who laughed at his opponents when he knew they were going to hell. Why do so many fundamentalists start to display insulting and abusive tones when a challenger pushes them on points of fact and logic? One might almost think one is trying to reason with a religious warrior from the 17th century.

As for what I have been arguing all along, I suggest you read my posts again. You don't seem to grasp the rules of logical consistency or criteria to support your arguments for historicity.

But that understandable, even necessary for you, because it has also been made clear by a few of the more honest contributors to this discussion that the real issue is faith and belief in miracles, not history. History is turned into a tool to support theology. Acts must be shown to be "unique" and therefore beyond all common criteria and universal rules of logic that we apply to mere secular documents. But of course everything is unique in some way. It is facile and fatuous to keep demonstrating the "uniqueness" of any document. What is important is to recognize where documents are alike in ways that we can apply general rules across all. That is what some here simply will not allow to be done to Acts for purposes of verifying its historicity.

Okay Neil,

I realize I never got back to you about your summary of my argument. But no, that is not a good summary of what I was arguing. I have no idea what you mean by a document being 'seriously and sincerely told'. You seem to reduce genre analysis to the claim to have produced a certain kind of writing. That is part of the story, but by no means all of it. To establish a work of ancient literature as belonging to a historiographical genre is much more comprehensive than simply looking for whether the author tells us he is writing history or not. As Layman has pointed out, there are various structural and thematic features which alert the reader to the kind of work it is. I suggest you read his posts again on the subject.

Once a writing has been identified as historiographical, there are various checks one can perform to see whether the author was successful in his purpose, external corroboration of cultural and historical data being one very important part. Other factors include the proximity of the account to the events involved, the nature of the sources themselves insofar as that can be determined, etc.

Do I believe that it is POSSIBLE for a historical or biographical work to be forged? Sure. But as I and others have been repeatedly pointing out, mere possibility does not count for much. Of course it's POSSIBLE that Acts is an elaborate work of fiction with no grounding in early Christian history of the time it purports to describe. The salient point is whether we have good reason to think that it is. You have not presented any such reasons.

And what keeps giving you this idea that we are trying to argue for the absolute uniqueness of Acts? If anything, we're trying to do the opposite: establish Acts as a fairly reliable ancient historical writing just like many others which historians accept and use in their reconstructions. I think you are confusing our enumeration of the features of Acts which suggest this conclusion with some desperate attempt to show that the standard rules of investigating an ancient document do not apply. We are trying to do no such thing.

Finally, your views of the relationship between faith, history and theology are too unstructured and naive to allow substantial comment. There is no 'real' issue of faith and belief in miracles versus history. The two are inextricably intertwined, in that one's views of what is metaphysically possible determine what one thinks is historically possible. But considerations of one's presuppositions does not exhaust historiographical inquiry. Even if one accepts the possibility of miracles there still must be good independent evidence for particular occurences. Mere belief in the possibility of miracles does not guarantee that any have actually happened. And what do you mean by 'history as a tool of theology'? If you simply mean that historical considerations are relevant for theological thinking that is uncontroversial and sound. But if you're implying that we here (or other believing scholars) twist and distort facts to serve some theological agenda you are sadly mistaken. What if a dispassionate historiographical examination does, in fact, indicate that Acts is a reliable document? It seems you would dismiss the cumulative case out of hand simply because it suggests certain theological conclusions which you are uncomfortable with.

Which theologians and philosophers of history have you read anyway that lead you to think that Christians make history a tool of theology? Have you read anything by Wolfhart Pannenberg, Van Harvey or N.T. Wright? If not, you should.

Why do so many fundamentalists start to display insulting and abusive tones when a challenger pushes them on points of fact and logic?

I don't know. Go ask a fundamentalist. But before you do, you should probably actually push them on points of fact and logic -- something that you haven't come close to doing here.

As for what I have been arguing all along, I suggest you read my posts again. Naw, the eighth amendment prevents me from doing that.

the real issue is faith and belief in miracles, not history. No, the real issue is that miracles happen to be part of history in this case.

It looks like most of the about 30 early gospels (including the "infancy gospel of Thomas" where Jesus kills other kids) meet the historicity requirements presented here. (claims + accepted by followers as truth and authority + more claims by many people). Does this mean that Christians running this web site believe Jesus killed other kids when he was young? If not, which criteria do we change now?

It looks like most of the about 30 early gospels (including the "infancy gospel of Thomas" where Jesus kills other kids) meet the historicity requirements presented here.

Then you need to go back and re-read. The only four Gospels that were widely accepted as authoritative were the four Gospels found in the Bible. Let me recommend the book "Reinventing Jesus" to you as a something to read that will give you some background on the issue.

Anon,

If those 30 early gospels were "accepted by followers as truth and authority" then why were they rejected from by all the early counsels and lists of accepted authoritative Christian documents?

The early gospels were read in the Christian meetings and believed by the Christians. If you change (again) the criteria to the biblical canon, then 3 Corinthians, Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter and couple other books must be true as they were in some point part of the canon and meet all the other criteria here.

This is like the fifth time the criteria and proof changes. It is about time someone defines what is your criteria of proof...

Again, you need to read more about this. Layman's question is absolutely on point: you can say that they should be part of the canon, but history shows that the early church did not share your high view of 3 Corinthians, etc. These other books were excluded because they didn't meet the requirements of canonicity largely because they were not widely accepted as authoritative.

Take a look, for example, at this chart. It shows the difference between the acceptance of the books that are in the New Testament and other books like the ones that you cited. While 3 Corinthians is not on the table, both the Acts of Paul and the Apocalypse of Peter are.

Only two sources cited the Apocalypse of Peter favorably. The Muratorian Canon and Clement of Alexandria. They were, according to the chart, viewed as "accepted; true; scriptural; or quoted from very approvingly". Compare that to the four Gospels which are cited almost unanmiously with those same designations. The most notable exception being Marcion who was (appropriately) labeled heretical.

The Acts of Paul fares even less well. It is either not talked about or (in the case of Tertullian) called heretical. (Eusebius calls it spurious).

There is simply no comparison. Those books were excluded from the Bible because they were not widely seen as authoritative.

BTW, what's your criteria of proof? You claim that ours is moving (it's not), but you certainly haven't given any criteria in what you've written. Based upon what you're saying, your criteria must have little to do with actual history.

Anon,

Until you start offering something other than unsupported assertions for your comments-many of which are demonstrably baseless, others, hopelessly distorted--you are not going to be taken seriously.

It appears you have the same approach to the facts as Neil "don't bog me down with details" Godfrey.

Jason, thanks for the extracts from Hemer. His 11 points of methodological guidelines for applying generally accepted historical principles is a most positive response. I find myself in agreement with every one of them. Historicity is not a matter of absolutes but of probabilities. I can see why a certain mind-set would have little time for the sort of discussion Hemer undertakes.

Guideline number 5 I found the most pertinent to the discussion here. It speaks of external corroboration, interlocking sources, relationships with other texts.

Guideline number 7 is, once again, the sticking point. And Hemer unfortunately keeps his bets hedged with the vague generalities he brings to bear here. Miracles. Hemer leaves this as “an inescapable question” and “delicacy needed in unraveling the issues”. I doubt that on this point nonbiblical historians would be so coy.

Jason, you attempt a reconciliation between (my understanding of) JD’s position and Hemer’s. You note that Hemer’s views “are not discontinous with” JD’s claims that historicity can be established given the combination of genre and background details. Nor, you suggest, are they “discontinuous with” the argument presented here that historicity can be accepted if a document looks like and claims to be history and it’s background details are right.

“Not discontinuous with” sounds like there is a continuum between the black and white claims made by others in this thread and those made by Hemer. If so, I would argue that historical method can only be found at Hemer’s end of the continuum and the black and white simplistic and illogical claims presented elsewhere in this discussion do not sit with Hemer’s approach at all. The continuum is not one within various levels of historical method, but from non-historical method to mature historical method.

You also raise the question of miracles. You propose that Acts is overall quite low-key in its miraculous element (only a couple of major exceptions) and that most of the miracles could be explained away as “misunderstandings of various sorts”. Leaving aside the question of just how low-key they really are (maybe cultural familiarity kicks in here) -- But even if all the miracles in Acts could be explained in natural terms, this only makes the narrative more plausible. To the extent that they are more plausible they become candidates for the possibility of historical fact. But plausibility itself is never a reason to presume factuality.

Thanks for taking the time to present those criteria. Do you mind if I post them on my blog sometime (no immediate plans) -- with attribution to you as the notetaker, of course?

Layman, you say you wrote "many details". Would you like to single out just one that you have mentioned in any of your earlier posts -- no more than one -- any one -- that bears on the logic of the argument.

That is, just repeat any one of the "many detail" you say you have presented here and that is not a non sequitur and I will promise to reply to it.

Let's not be so restrictive. I invite anyone else impressed by Layman's list of details to select just one of them that is relevant to the argument -- that is, post just one of Layman's "many details" (since there are so many one should be easy to find) that does more than simply tell us no more than how we can know if the background settings in Acts are from the early Roman period or not.

Remember we are trying to see if we have any way of knowing if Acts is more than historical fiction.

Okay Neil,

Thanks, JD. My replies in bold.

I realize I never got back to you about your summary of my argument. But no, that is not a good summary of what I was arguing. I have no idea what you mean by a document being 'seriously and sincerely told'. You seem to reduce genre analysis to the claim to have produced a certain kind of writing. That is part of the story, but by no means all of it. To establish a work of ancient literature as belonging to a historiographical genre is much more comprehensive than simply looking for whether the author tells us he is writing history or not. As Layman has pointed out, there are various structural and thematic features which alert the reader to the kind of work it is. I suggest you read his posts again on the subject.

So you are arguing here that genre tells us if it is a genuine historical writing. Yes?

Once a writing has been identified as historiographical, there are various checks one can perform to see whether the author was successful in his purpose, external corroboration of cultural and historical data being one very important part. Other factors include the proximity of the account to the events involved, the nature of the sources themselves insofar as that can be determined, etc.

Agreed.

Do I believe that it is POSSIBLE for a historical or biographical work to be forged? Sure. But as I and others have been repeatedly pointing out, mere possibility does not count for much. Of course it's POSSIBLE that Acts is an elaborate work of fiction with no grounding in early Christian history of the time it purports to describe. The salient point is whether we have good reason to think that it is. You have not presented any such reasons.

It sounds like you are very dogmatic about the possibility of Acts being historical. So dogmatic, that when you do read reasons to doubt its historicity your first impulse would be to argue against them strenuously. Do none of the reasons many historians offer to doubt its historicity (including Hemer, it seems) ever give you pause for serious doubt? If history is to be scientific to the extent it can be and is, there is no room for dogmatism.

And what keeps giving you this idea that we are trying to argue for the absolute uniqueness of Acts? If anything, we're trying to do the opposite: establish Acts as a fairly reliable ancient historical writing just like many others which historians accept and use in their reconstructions. I think you are confusing our enumeration of the features of Acts which suggest this conclusion with some desperate attempt to show that the standard rules of investigating an ancient document do not apply. We are trying to do no such thing.

What gives me the idea is the stonewalling when asked about various principles concerning Acts in relation to other literature, and turning on the attack and attempting to focus attention on the specifics of the other literature. Avoid the principle and focus on the specifics of the other lit to show that Acts is not like those.

Finally, your views of the relationship between faith, history and theology are too unstructured and naive to allow substantial comment. There is no 'real' issue of faith and belief in miracles versus history. The two are inextricably intertwined, in that one's views of what is metaphysically possible determine what one thinks is historically possible. But considerations of one's presuppositions does not exhaust historiographical inquiry. Even if one accepts the possibility of miracles there still must be good independent evidence for particular occurences. Mere belief in the possibility of miracles does not guarantee that any have actually happened. And what do you mean by 'history as a tool of theology'? If you simply mean that historical considerations are relevant for theological thinking that is uncontroversial and sound. But if you're implying that we here (or other believing scholars) twist and distort facts to serve some theological agenda you are sadly mistaken. What if a dispassionate historiographical examination does, in fact, indicate that Acts is a reliable document? It seems you would dismiss the cumulative case out of hand simply because it suggests certain theological conclusions which you are uncomfortable with.

Yes, I do reject a case if it defies the laws of nature. No matter how complex you try to make the argument sound, I do not trust any account that has people being zapped by a cloud into heaven. At least Livy saved his reputation as an historican when he displayed the nous to express alternative explanations and the realistic reactions many had to the story going around that that's what happened to Romulus.


Which theologians and philosophers of history have you read anyway that lead you to think that Christians make history a tool of theology? Have you read anything by Wolfhart Pannenberg, Van Harvey or N.T. Wright? If not, you should.

N.T. Wright, yes. And heard him interviewed. Would you like to hear a critique? Would you like me to give you a list of authors you should read too?

BK, That is a fantastically useful link you cited re the citations of various writings by surviving texts. I have often referred to it.

But I notice that if you go to the top of the page and locate and click on the link that says "Authoriries", you are taken to another very interesting page.

That page explains how to interpret the ticks in the link you cite.

Would you like to explain how the link you cite supports your argument within the context of the Authorities link?

Looking forward to your response,
Neil

Neil,

The authorities page is fairly self-explanatory. If someone has questions, they can ask, but I have no problem encouraging people to go to the authorities page, also.

BK, Well then you will notice that there are no certain citations among the "non-heretics" until the time of Irenaeus.

What the chart does is display phrases and allusions found in the canonical writings that also appear in those early writers. The Authorities page enables you to evaluate the nature of those citations.

Take the tick against Acts in the Ignatius column and check on the authorities page exactly what that tick represents. Would anyone like to still argue dogmatically that Ignatius really did know and use Acts just because there is a tick against it in the Tables page?

You seem to be unaware that it is far from settled whether such allusions indicate a common pool of ideas and teachings that were known to both Fathers and canonical authors. You also seem unaware of the methods used to date Polycarp and Ignatius depend largely on how one interprets those unattributed citations. And you also seem unaware that the evidence for the citations of Paul in Ignatius is highly questionable.

In other words, the information on the Authorities page should alert you to the fact that the conclusions you are drawing from the Tables page are based on circular reasoning and often only the most questionable of citations.

But both the authorities and tables pages should tell you also that all you are seeing there are (often problematic) citations by the "orthodox" Fathers only. If you read the Fathers for yourself you will also learn that there was no agreement at all about commonly accepted writings in their own day.

You will also learn that many Christians did indeed treat other texts such as the Acts of Paul and Gospel of Peter and Hermas and others as their "scriptures" long before Irenaeus.

Reading the Fathers is more work than reading a chart but reading the Fathers will also inform you how to interpret the Chart, and will alert you to the questions and problems that are raised by the Authorities page.

Bk, thanks for the chart.

I was not aware that Marcion rejected Acts. I think you answered the jd walters challenge:
We want the name (or names) of a specific person in the period 100-500 A.D. who made the specific charge that the book of Acts is a hoax or fiction
jd walters, would you concede that point?

The salient point is whether we have good reason to think that it is [fiction]. You have not presented any such reasons.
Isn't that a shifting of burden of proof, when asking to proof that supernatural event did / did not happen.

BTW, what's your criteria of proof?
I'm happy with JPR's Hemer quote and Neil Godfrey's comments of those.

And I thought Ephraem of Syria (missing from the list) accepted 3 Corinthians as part of the canon...

layman,

Until you start offering something other than unsupported assertions for your comments-many of which are demonstrably baseless, others, hopelessly distorted
What are my unsupported, baseless or distorted assertions you refer to?

"don't bog me down with details" Anon ;-)

Neil,

I repeat that the chart is self-explanatory. You can put your spin on it, but the bottom line is that Acts and Luke were cited approvingly or accepted by nearly all of the early church fathers with the exception of Marcion who was rightly labelled a heretic. That is the point of the chart.

Oh, and I should comment on this:

You will also learn that many Christians did indeed treat other texts such as the Acts of Paul and Gospel of Peter and Hermas and others as their "scriptures" long before Irenaeus.

No, that is not correct. It is undeniably true that there were some who treated those texts as scripture. But "many" is an overstatment and that fact becomes clear when you realize that they were not among the books that were nearly unanimously accepted as being part of the canon, nor were they considered even close to being as authoritative as some of the other more questionable books (such as Second Peter) which did finally become part of the canon.

Anonymous,

Marcion did not say it was a hoax or a fiction. He said it was written by Jewish Christians to discount the authority of Paul (which is a pretty odd argument given that over half of the book focuses on the ministry of Paul). In other words, he simply said it was wrong. So, there is no one who said it was a hoax or a fiction. Besides, if Marcion is your best source, you have problems.

Isn't that a shifting of burden of proof, when asking to proof that supernatural event did / did not happen.

We have been talking about criteria shifting now you are talking about the burden of proof shifting. Still, let me answer it by rephrasing what I said about the burden of proof: you (and apparently Neil) are the ones who are basically claiming that they "could" be hoaxes or frauds. I am saying that you have the burden of showing that because you are the ones standing contrary to the standard understanding. That's all.

I'm happy with JPR's Hemer quote and Neil Godfrey's comments of those.

Well, since the Hemer quote supports the authenticity of Acts, I accept your apology.

And I thought Ephraem of Syria (missing from the list) accepted 3 Corinthians as part of the canon...

Fine. I never said one or two writer's opinions determined what was canonical. Rather the canon was composed of the books that were widely regarded as authoritative. 3 Corinthinas (like the Acts of Paul and Gospel of Peter and Hermas) was not widely regarded as authoritative.

Let me clarify because I think what I said above about Marcion is subject to a misunderstanding. When I am talking about a "fiction" in this case, I am talking in the sense that we have been talking all along -- that the authors of the book of Acts wrote it as a novel for the purposes of entertainment. If you now want to expand the idea of fiction to mean "anything made up" then Marcion would support the idea that Acts is a fiction. But, again, you should read about Marcion before you use his opinion to buttress such a contention -- he was off base on a lot.

bk,

Marcion is your best source, you have problems
I thought Marcion invented the canon. Ok, ignoring Attis followers, most Romans like Nero and Marcion, can you name me another person in the period 100-500 A.D. who made the specific charge that the book of Acts is a hoax or fiction, so I can refute jd walters? ;-)

I am saying that you have the burden of showing that because you are the ones standing contrary to the standard understanding
Most people on this planet dont believe (or even can name) the miracles in the Acts. If I claim Xenu is the galactic overlord, you don't need to disprove it. You can just ask me to prove it. When people run out of proofs they tell opponents to try to disprove it...

I never said one or two writer's opinions determined what was canonical
According to the last count this is the sixth time the goal post has been changed. Whenever Neil, your links or I point a mistake that target changes.

Maybe the base story of the Acts is true, but we need independent proof of miracles to confirm those. Acts also has a trace of political battles like refuting Simon Magus and we all know that one sided political stories are not always non-biased. We should find the story from Simon's point of view and see if they match up...

-Peter

BK, Did you even read the full notes posted here on Hemer? He expresses the strongest doubts about the historicity of Acts.

Did you actually check the basis for the Ignatius claim that he knew Acts? Or were you happy just to see a tick and not bother to see the actual reference?

Maybe Layman should have a talk to you about details.

One series I have been wanting to write up for a while is a discussion of the literary genre of Acts.

The first post is now up -- it's about the
Prologue of Acts.

It includes lots of links to prologues from all sorts of works for anyone interested to read for themselves.

Have since revised my post on ancient prologues to include more links to examples by historians for the sake of a more complete comparison with Acts.

Anyone interested in the facts now has an opportunity to make up their own minds about which preface comes closest to the sort of one we read in Acts.

Peter,

I am not one for endless discussions. I will leave it to others who may read this in the future (and its doubtful at this point anyone else will read this long discussion with all of these parties) to decide which of us hold the higher ground. Needless to say, I think your claims that the goals are shifting is more a lack of careful reading than any type of shift, and your Xenu analogy is the exact opposite of what is occuring here.

Neil,

I read the notes posted by JRP about Hemer, and I respectfully don't see where he said that he had strong doubts about Acts. Rather, I see him saying that many of the objections that are put forth by those who believes Acts to be unhistorical are worthy of consideration but do not necessarily defeat the claims that Acts can be understood as historical.

With respect to the Ignatius claim, no I have not gone back and read through all of Ignatius. I accept the claims that it is cited approvingly based on authority. That is not unusual since we both take things on authority all the time. Have you double-checked every detail of everything you've ever read and that you accept as true? I doubt it. But let's suppose for the sake of argument that there is some disagreement about the reference, for example, you think that the reference to Acts isn't clear enough and want to discount it. Okay, then you still have all of the other approvals (tacit or explicit) that you have to deal with and the fact that the book was apparently accepted early on as authoritative and canonical.

One last thing: I am not going to bother responding to anything else in this thread because I am not a fan of endless arguments about minutiae. I think that the conversation has moved well away from the original post. We have given you a lot of leeway to make your point including allowing you to make links to offsite articles that aren't particularly relevant to the original blog post (which is against blog comment policy). So, you are free to post one final response if you so desire that is responsive to what I said in this comment, but I will probably not respond and I will take it down if it is off topic, brings up new matter, or links to long articles off-site.

Neil,

{{Guideline number 7 is, once again, the sticking point.}}

As I recall mentioning myself (though not in quite those words.)

{{And Hemer unfortunately keeps his bets hedged with the vague generalities he brings to bear here.}}

It’s an agnostic position, rather than pre-settled against any possibility of miracle. (Obviously, where someone brings that constraint to the analysis, they’ll be less “coy”, or nuanced, about the topic.) It’s an “inescapable question” because the incidents are part of the tale.

{{“Not discontinuous with” sounds like there is a continuum between the black and white claims made by others in this thread and those made by Hemer.}}

More like there is a continuum with the very brief claims made by others in this thread (which they put up rather than macro-posting something like Hemer’s 11 guidelines.) You and one of the Anons have been complaining about the criteria being a “moving target”. That’s because their criteria has always been more complex and nuanced than you seem determined for them to be believing. You’re the one foisting “black and white simplistic (and illogical) claims presented elsewhere in this discussion”; and then complaining when they try to tell you their position is more nuanced than what you’re demanding them to be. I strenuously doubt that JD or Layman (or BK either) are going to look at the Hemer guidelines and say, ‘Heck, no, our position is a lot simpler than that!’ They’re going to say much the same thing you did.

{{Leaving aside the question of just how low-key they really are (maybe cultural familiarity kicks in here)}}

Depends on what culture one is familiar with, perhaps. I just got finished reading through several centuries of Irish hagiography; and the miracle claims in Acts are pretty low-key by that standard (with the one or two exceptions I mentioned).

If it comes to that, the miracle claims in Acts are pretty low-key compared to GosLuke, too. {g}

{{But even if all the miracles in Acts could be explained in natural terms, this only makes the narrative more plausible.}}

To someone who rejects miracle claims either in toto or in this venue, of course. That’s a previously established philosophical position, and has to be debated at that level.

{{If history is to be scientific to the extent it can be and is, there is no room for dogmatism. [...] I do reject a case if it defies the laws of nature. No matter how complex you try to make the argument sound, I do not trust any account that has people being zapped by a cloud into heaven.}}

Also, you criticized Hemer for treating the matter as though the case against miracles was not to be presumed closed from the outset. i.e., you criticised him for not being dogmatic about rejecting the miracles.

(Incidentally, I was sympathetic to the desire to apply a previously established philosophical constraint against the miracles; but to claim that this is not being dogmatic is, let us say, short-sighted. {s})

{{[Hemer] expresses the strongest doubts about the historicity of Acts.}}

I’ve read the whole book; he does not express the strongest doubts about the historicity of Acts. (Did you read the conclusion I posted earlier, composited from Hemer’s analysis (posthumously) by his editor?)

He does proceed from a methodologically neutral standpoint, without prejudging Acts’ historicity or non-historicity, and with the idea that objectors and proponents may both in principle contribute good arguments. This is not the same thing as Hemer himself beginning by expressing doubts (much less the strongest doubts) about the historicity of Acts.

{{But plausibility itself is never a reason to presume factuality.}}

Abductively speaking, it’s a great reason to presume factuality. i.e. on ground of plausibility, treat factuality as a working hypothesis, and then continue testing while keeping an eye out for confirmations and disconfirmations (in at least the inductive sense).

That goes for the non-miraculous elements, too (which vastly outnumber the miraculous elements in Acts.)

Which is not intended as a defense for accepting the miraculous accounts as being miraculous.

{{Do you mind if I post them on my blog sometime (no immediate plans) -- with attribution to you as the notetaker, of course?}}

No complaint at all. Let me know when-if-ever you do, please, and I’ll see if I can contribute some discussion there. (I take it this is not the prologue comparison?) You can email me; or if you post a comment here to that effect, I’ll get an email on that, too. (I don’t think BK would take it down, since by default it’s in relation to an established topic on the thread.)

Incidentally, Marcion’s main reason for rejecting Acts, was because it didn’t fit his theological agenda of divorcing Paul (and thus Jesus) from OT Judaism. But it’s true that otherwise he would count as a surviving reference from 100-500 CE about someone who rejected Acts as being a fraud or a hoax. (I would accept “written by Jewish Christians to discount the authority of Paul” as being tantamount to a claim of “hoax”.)

One of those “Acts of Paul” (there were several, including combinations and rescensions) was certainly written in the 2nd century by an orthodox clergyman, who was then defrocked when it became clear he had written it and people were treating it as a reliable text coming from those earlier days (which was one of the (eventually formal) criteria for canonicity: could use of the text be tracked back through a significant majority church to the time period of the apostles? Due to fragmentary surviving sources we aren’t in similar position to make the same estimation.)

This is a known case where an orthodox author creatively fabricated what amounts to a contemporary novel, meaning no disrespect for either Paul or the faith of the people he was writing for--and it got zorched pretty quickly, because the provenance was clearly false. It became clear that this document had not been in use among churches since the time of the apostles, and when the authorities tracked it down it clearly came back to that one guy. What the authorities didn’t say was, well, it’s a pretty good story anyway, it says the kind of things we want to be said, so we’ll keep it (and maybe tell people this is to be authoritatively accepted). What they did do was very different.

JRP

JRP wrote:

I would accept “written by Jewish Christians to discount the authority of Paul” as being tantamount to a claim of “hoax”.

At risk of quibbling about terms, I respectfully disagree. But I suppose that we shouldn't disagree on such manners since, according to some people, we are both Christians who cannot think for ourselves. Thus, it is impossible for us to disagree. :)

Lol!

JRP

BK, I feel I can talk and discuss and debate with Hemer because he does not appear to be a dogmatic thinker. You apparently failed to read these words of his posted earlier:

"And although it is often said that ancient standards of historiography differ radically from modern ones, the two are not completely incompatible, and the modern questions of accuracy and the like remain important ones to ask, even if they must be answered negatively. If forced to choose between them, we must in this respect prefer a Haenchen, who at least discusses the historicity of the narrative even if he frequently ends by dismissing it, to a Diibelius, seeking to postpone indefinitely the question of the ‘real events’ in favour of extended literary matters. If Luke was a praiseworthy historian by ancient standards, but useless to us in our attempts to reconstruct an accurate picture of the early church, so be it; but we want to know that. The picture may not be so bleak, however."

BK, yes I do check everything to the last degree if it is important enough to be a question of what I believe. I'd be a fool not to. Don't you? Yes, it does take work. But if it's important enough to believe then it's worth it.

But your reply suggests you do not know how to use that chart or consult the source of those ticks. On the authorities page (click on the tick in the Acts-Ignatius box) and you will see exactly what that tick is based on. Ignatius in Mag.5:1

"Yes, everything is coming to and end, and we stand before this choice, death or life, and everyone, WILL GO TO HIS OWN PLACE."

That last phrase I have blocked is the total foundation for the tick. I do not see any substantial reason whatever to "believe" that Ignatius knew Acts. There is NO substantial evidence that ANYONE knew Acts until Irenaeus (near end of second century). I would point you to a link to support this but you don't want alternative opinions linked here if they come from my blog.

Jason, you said I "criticised [Hemer] for not being dogmatic about rejecting the miracles.

No I did not by any means criticize him. What did I say or how did I express anything to suggest that? I think you are reading my words with a negative eye and reading hostility where none exists. I pointed out that he was not dogmatic and implied that others would be far more dogmatic. He was opening a door for discussion, and acceptance and even understanding of different viewpoints as valid.

You also wrote, "To someone who rejects miracle claims either in toto or in this venue, of course. That’s a previously established philosophical position, and has to be debated at that level."

There is no one truth in philosophy. Many schools and foundational starting points. So I don't see how that will resolve anything.

You wrote, "You and one of the Anons have been complaining about the criteria being a “moving target”. That’s because their criteria has always been more complex and nuanced than you seem determined for them to be believing."

No, it's because every time Anon and me nail someone here on a dogmatic claim they shift to some other rationale and complain we don't see the whole picture. This has been the pattern every time. That is simply a failure to argue from a set of principles. It evidences a determination to simply win, not to arrive at some new point or truth through the norms of reasoned dialogue. I had hoped to persuade some closed minded views here to at least see a chink of alternative light but I have obviously failed.

You wrote: "You’re the one foisting “black and white simplistic (and illogical) claims presented elsewhere in this discussion”; and then complaining when they try to tell you their position is more nuanced than what you’re demanding them to be."

I am attempting to keep to black and white logic, yes. The only shifting really has been other respondants here trying to avoid admitting initial dogmatism based on flawed logic. And when finally exhausted after attempting all the different tacks they can find they finally say I have been the one moving the target.

I have no problem at all with nuance. I could talk with a Hemer. He's the sort of nuance that is also consistent. I read many books by Christians and learn much. I don't care what their beliefs -- we are all where we are at and I am not interested in attempting to change or attack anyone's beliefs. But when I see irrational argument and dogmatism and if it is a public space I will often speak up.

You wrote: "No complaint at all. Let me know when-if-ever you do, please, and I’ll see if I can contribute some discussion there. (I take it this is not the prologue comparison?) You can email me; or if you post a comment here to that effect, I’ll get an email on that, too. (I don’t think BK would take it down, since by default it’s in relation to an established topic on the thread.)"

Thank you. But my last link was also in relation to the established topic -- it addressed one of Layman's details that he has repeated at length several times.

By the way, JD has left links on my blog without complaint. I find the sudden shut down (or walking away) and threat of censorship here hints strongly of insecurity.

You wrote: "Incidentally, Marcion’s main reason for rejecting Acts, was because it didn’t fit his theological agenda of divorcing Paul (and thus Jesus) from OT Judaism."

Fact (I would post a supporting link but I know it would be censored here): There is absolutely no evidence, by the way, despite that chart, that Marcion ever "rejected Acts". There is no evidence whatever that he ever knew of the existence of Acts. There are many reasons (based on detailed evidence) to believe that Acts was composed a later reaction against Marcionism.

You wrote of another work, "This is a known case where an orthodox author creatively fabricated what amounts to a contemporary novel, meaning no disrespect for either Paul or the faith of the people he was writing for--and it got zorched pretty quickly, because the provenance was clearly false."

No, the facts demonstrate that it was rejected because of its anti-patristic doctrines: forbidding to marry and allowing, even encouraging, women to preach. That was why it was important to find the identity of the author and attempt to discredit that very popular work.

As I said earlier, I have found the discussion - and its conclusion - very enlightening in ways I had not anticipated. I will probably address the way it has progressed and post online in a discussion addressing mind control and fundamentalism, but will not, of course, post a link to here in deference to your "policy".

Neil,

There is a lot I could say in response, but as I said earlier, I have no desire to sink into endless debate over nothing -- and in all sincerity, that's pretty much what I think of the depth of your arguments. I have, however, left you the last word and people others can decide if what you say is worth pursuing.

If you feel our policy against people linking to external sources in the comments section is somehow abusive, you should keep in mind that I have allowed you to violate the policy and left your links up. Besides, you are certainly welcome to post elsewhere.

Neil,

Illness, Thanksgiving holiday, ‘work’ work, long composition == delays. Sorry. (Some of the composition involves a 20+ page tracing of the exchanges about ‘criteria’, which I haven’t included yet and possibly won’t unless I have to.)

{{I feel I can talk and discuss and debate with Hemer because he does not appear to be a dogmatic thinker.}}

I’m sure Colin Hemer appreciates the compliment about his relative undogmatism; but by the time you’re actually in a position to talk and discuss and debate things with him, the historical accuracy of Acts will probably be a fairly trivial topic. (Hemer died just before completing the book. {s})

The quote you referenced from Hemer was simply his way of saying (via Gempf’s summary of Hemer’s chapters, this one being borrowed from chp 3) that if modern questions of accuracy are answered negatively then that’s important to know and we should accept it. Thus he compares Dibelius, who is always postponing the question of real events, to Haenchen who discusses the actual historicity of the narrative: between the two, it would be better to prefer Haenchen even though he answers in the negative.

Allowing provision beforehand to come up with a negative accuracy answer rather than to simply dodge the question (which is the charge Hemer makes against Dibelius), is not remotely the same thing as Hemer expressing “the strongest doubts” against the historicity of Acts.


{{Jason, you said I "criticised [Hemer] for not being dogmatic about rejecting the miracles.” No I did not by any means criticize him. What did I say or how did I express anything to suggest that?}}

To recap, what I wrote was, “you criticized Hemer for treating the matter as though the case against miracles was not to be presumed closed from the outset. i.e., you criticised him for not being dogmatic about rejecting the miracles.”

I was replying (though not in direct quotation there), to what you had written to me (on Nov 11th) in regard to Hemer and his 7th guideline: “Hemer unfortunately keeps his bets hedged with the vague generalities he brings to bear here. Miracles. Hemer leaves this as ‘an inescapable question’ and ‘delicacy needed in unraveling the issues’. I doubt that on this point nonbiblical historians would be so coy.”

This looks like criticising Hemer for something; and it looks like you’re criticising him for hedging his bets in favor of keeping an option for miracles open. How have I misread this?

{{I think you are reading my words with a negative eye and reading hostility where none exists.}}

So... you don’t think it unfortunate that Hemer “keeps his bets hedged with the vague generalities he brings to bear here” regarding the miracles. Was your “unfortunately” a typo then?

{{I pointed out that he was not dogmatic and implied that others would be far more dogmatic. He was opening a door for discussion, and acceptance and even understanding of different viewpoints as valid.}}

The others being the “nonbiblical historians”, by context.

So, by topical substitution with your paragraph construction, then, you are explaining that you meant to say: “Hemer unfortunately [was not dogmatic, opening a door for discussion and acceptance and even understanding of different viewpoints as valid. Thus in regard to] Miracles. Hemer leaves this as ‘an inescapable question’ and ‘delicacy needed in unraveling the issues’. I doubt that on this point nonbiblical historians would be so coy. [== implying that these others would be far more dogmatic.]”

It’s the “unfortunately” that is throwing me here, Neil, among other things. I’m trying to come up with a scenario where you meant the “unfortunately” to refer to the nonbiblical historians being far more dogmatic and not being so “coy” as Hemer, but I’m drawing a blank. Help?


{{You also wrote, "To someone who rejects miracle claims either in toto or in this venue, of course. That’s a previously established philosophical position, and has to be debated at that level."

There is no one truth in philosophy. Many schools and foundational starting points. So I don't see how that will resolve anything.}}

Apparently you don’t realize that “there is no one truth in philosophy” is itself a mutually exclusive philosophical truth claim. Consequently, the statement is either immediately self-refuting or at best is meaningless as a statement.

But, leaving that aside, my point was to recognize and respect that someone who comes to the text with that dogmatic constraint (a rejection of miracle claims either in toto or in this venue) is going to have the result you had given (“even if all the miracles in Acts could be explained in natural terms, this only makes the narrative more plausible.”) Treating this constraint as not being dogmatic, though, is (as I said) short-sighted.

It ought to be obvious from a logical procession, that insofar as a debate back at the level of that philosophical constraint against miracles might result in deciding it was proper to remove this constraint (for example), then there will be a consequent alteration in the kinds of conclusion reached subsequently.

Similarly, if someone at one time was willing to allow the possibility of miracles, to this or that degree, but then decided later that no possibility of miracles should be admitted to an analysis of a text’s historicity, then that would introduce a new logical constraint to what kind of conclusions the person could validly draw concerning that text’s historicity; especially when the text purports that something miraculous has happened.

Thus, if you yourself have reached a decision to affirm the philosophical position that no possibility of miracles should be admitted to an analysis of a text’s historicity, this has “resolved” something for you in what kinds of options are available for gauging the historicity of that text.


In any case, my previous comparison of quotes from you remains in place: you had stated “If history is to be scientific to the extent it can be and is, there is no room for dogmatism,” (itself an entirely dogmatic claim, by the way), and also “I do reject a case if it defies the laws of nature.” Which is a result of holding a dogmatic claim.

I didn’t criticize you for holding to, and applying, dogmatic claims, of course; neither in my comment you’re referencing, or earlier. I didn’t even criticize you (there or earlier) for applying that particular dogmatic position in evaluating the texts.

I criticized you for being inconsistent with your own principle application: you (dogmatically) proclaim there is no room for dogmatism, and then reject a case on your own dogmatic grounds. (I think restricting myself to calling this “short-sighted” was highly charitable on my own part.)


{{[E]very time Peter and me nail someone here on a dogmatic claim they shift to some other rationale and complain we don't see the whole picture.}}

No; every time you and Peter try to simplify someone here on a claim that you (apparently) think represents their “dogma”, they try to explain that their criteria on the topic is more complex than the simplifications you’re giving.

There is a great difference between Bill stating “the fact that [the Bible] is accurate in those things that we can confirm (even before we were able to confirm them) gives testimony to the belief that we can trust the Bible in those things that cannot or have not yet been confirmed”, which was the quote that seems to have set off you and Peter, and reducing this down to ‘if it sounds like history or even includes accurate background details then it must be entirely historical.’ Which in polysyllabic variations, and a couple of grudging extensions (sometimes forgotten later by Peter when that was more convenient) is what you and Peter keep trying to reduce the claim to.

Perhaps the problem was with Bill’s use of “confirm” in the next paragraph (the discovery of the tribunal of Corinth “helps further confirm the accuracy of the Book of Acts”). Bill was using it in the inductive sense, of adding weight in favor of a liklihood estimate (in a Bayesian sense); not in a deductive sense. But the deductive sense is stronger, and is what more people tend to think of when they read the term. Which, incidentally, is why I don’t like to use it myself except in the deductive sense. But someone with training and expertise in the field ought to at least be willing to grant that someone else who some experience in the field might have meant it inductively rather than deductively.

So, you test-question to see if (in effect) they meant it deductively. They reply (in effect) that they didn’t. But you aren’t satisfied with this; you and Peter are sure that they must have meant it deductively. So you keep poking at them, trying to get them to confess that they meant it deductively (in effect). And they keep on replying (in effect), no, they meant it inductively: it’s part of a cumulative-weight case to a likelihood estimate. When you don’t get a simplified deductive admission from them, you try some other simplified deductive admission attempt, but they keep affirming something else instead: because their case isn’t that simple, and they aren’t trying to make a deductive case (on that point anyway.)

I can trace this process out in detail in the correspondence, if I am provoked. (I mean 20+ pages worth or thereabouts. {g}) But the shift can be easily noticed in your very first comment: “How does archaeological evidence of Gallio, Claudius and a speaker’s platform do anything to ‘prove’ Acts?” Deductively, of course, it does nothing to “prove” Acts. As part of a Bayesian case of weight-evaluation, it adds weight in various ways toward the historicity of Acts, though. Other things might add weight against.


{{The only shifting really has been other respondants here trying to avoid admitting initial dogmatism based on flawed logic.}}

But of course, if they were never basing their inferences to begin with on initial dogmatism of the sort you keep insisting that they have, then much the same result would follow, as you keep hunting for “simplistic” stances they don’t actually have. And though you claim now to be attempting to keep to “black and white logic”, what you were complaining about from them (and what I was addressing in the quote you gave from me to which you answered) was “black and white simplistic claims”.

Now, you can complain about them being more nuanced in their position than “black and white logic”, or you can complain about them insisting on “black and white simplistic (and illogical) claims”. Either one of those might be the wrong thing to do, but to complain about them doing both in regard to the same analysis is bizarre. The fact, is that you were sure they must have some kind of illogical initial dogmatism for reaching their results, but when you tried to nail this down they turned out not to have it. Apparently you’re still sure they must in fact have it somewhere, and that they are only trying to avoid admitting it: thus the “shifting” must be to avoid admitting it.

Which, ironically, is a result of someone insisting on interpreting a set of evidence by an initially held dogmatism. But that would be you this time.


{{they finally say I have been the one moving the target.}}

Peter: 11/07, 11:56 pm, to BK: “This proof seems to be a moving target.”

Neil replying to this quote from Peter: “Of course it is [a moving target.]”

Peter 11/12, 2:43 pm, to BK: “Whenever Neil, your links or I point a mistake that target changes.”

Jason to Neil: “You and one of the Peters have been complaining about the criteria being a ‘moving target’. That’s because their criteria has always been more complex and nuanced than you seem determined for them to be believing. You’re the one foisting [onto them] ‘black and white simplistic (and illogical) claims presented elsewhere in this discussion’; and then complaining when they try to tell you their position is more nuanced than what you’re demanding them to be.”

After this, there are no more references to a moving target, before your most recent reply to me (to which I am replying here.) So, who was it that was saying that you were the one moving the target?


{{I could talk with a Hemer. He's the sort of nuance that is also consistent. I read many books by Christians and learn much.}}

That’s nice. Wish you had read Hemer’s conclusion more closely, then. {g} He went from a nuanced set of methodological guidelines to a conclusion of generally reliable historicity, written most probably in early 60s CE by a close associate to the main characters of Acts from interviews or other similar first sources, including occasional eyewitness to some events (such as the shipwreck sequence).

Somehow you got “expressing the strongest doubts about the historicity of Acts” from this. (One wonders what else you learned from other Christian authors, if this is supposed to be an example...)


{{But when I see irrational argument and dogmatism and if it is a public space I will often speak up.}}

Same here; I can sympathize. {s}


{{Fact (I would post a supporting link but I know it would be censored here): There is absolutely no evidence, by the way, despite that chart, that Marcion ever "rejected Acts". There is no evidence whatever that he ever knew of the existence of Acts.}}

Agreed, and correction (provisionally) accepted. Substitute ‘GosLuke’ for ‘Acts’ as far as Marcion’s ideological goals go. While I’m at it, I’ll add in that Marcion clearly thought GosLuke was written on Pauline authority, though tampered with later by Jewish sympathizers among Christians. (Thus not a ‘forgery’, exactly, either.)

I will also allow that since without GosLuke he would have no Gospel at all that he could feel semi-safe referring to, he might have some equally ideological reason to blink past a lack of provenance tracing for the text. Even so, as far as his positive witness goes, Marcion counts in favor of GosLuke being known to predate 100CE by a substantial amount of time-usage.

{{There are many reasons (based on detailed evidence) to believe that Acts was composed a later reaction against Marcionism.}}

That might be a fun debate. I hope for your sake those many detailed reasons are better than believing Hemer was expressing the strongest doubts of Acts’ historicity... {g} You do realize that such a position (about Acts) goes directly up against evaluations by Adoph Von Harnack and JAT Robertson (among many others on all sides of the theological spectrum, some of them no more poster-boys for Christian "dogmatism" than those two were), right?


{{I find the sudden shut down (or walking away) [after only 78 sometimes fairly lengthy posts over a couple of weeks] and threat of censorship [where an admin thinks the link doesn’t connect with the topic of the original post] hints strongly of insecurity.}}

Or a sign of boredom, at least in the first case.

{{I will probably address the way it has progressed and post online in a discussion addressing mind control and fundamentalism, but will not, of course, post a link to here in deference to your "policy".}}

Incidentally, if you did that and mentioned me at any length, you didn’t bother to email me about it either (despite my request). You should, however, get an email alert about a new comment here.

JRP

If one opts to accept the arguments of one who addresses historicity in preference to one who does not address historicity, then only a sophist could argue that that person does "not remotely" concur with the arguments of the former.

As for my use of the word "unfortunately" that appears to be the cause of so much labour, yes, I was expressing my preference that Hemer not reason or state his case the way he does. It seems you are falling into the trap of which you go on to accuse me -- of insisting I must be embracing some either/or position that is simply not there. But though I disagree with the way Hemer expresses his argument I nonetheless respect it as an intellectually honest and valid one. I have no problem with it to that extent at all. I would not and never have argued against such a position as expressed by Hemer. I accept it all the time without quibble when I encounter it in discussions of historicity. Any accusation that I am critical of Hemer for his position regarding miracles would be gratuitous fault finding and simply will find no support in anything I have ever written anywhere in relation to the topic.

As for my turn of phrase, "There is no one truth in philosophy", if I had written for a philosopher I certainly would not have chosen such words. But I have no doubt that most readers in an informal forum understand my meaning. To write for your way of thinking I would have rather taken a paragraph to explain my position, with all the caveats and conditional clauses. (As a postgrad student of philosophy of education I do have some idea what I am talking about, by the way.)

Your argument about my "dogmatic claims" is mere sophistry. Again, I do make a clear distinction between specialist language and arguments and lay language without compromising meaning. The contradiction you address in my argument is semantic, and you can pick all lay language apart like that to conclude they are all talking gibberish. But that would be intellectual snobbery.

Of course I used dogmatism in the sense of its common lay meaning, and in comparison with scientific method. So my meaning was clear from the context. If you still do not know what the common meaning of the term is then just go to Google and type define: dogma or define: dogmatism . Your response is casuistry.

Your reference to Baysian weight-evalution is simply the same fallacious non-sequitur argument I was attempting to point out in the original post dressed up in fancier jargon, presumably as an attempt to sound more impressive and substantive. No-one argues that a Baysian weight-evalution applies within comparable applications, such as historiographical literature. I thought I made that point (in plain speech) elsewhere. But a historical novel can contain more truly factual details than some works of genuine history, yet a million proven established facts in a historical novel will do nothing to change its status as a novel.

You scoff at my suggestion that the scholarship of von Harnack and JAT Robinson might not be the last words on Acts and Marcion, but your ridicule is founded on ignorance of more recent peer reviewed scholarship addressing those authors' arguments and assumptions, and that I have begun to discuss elsewhere.

And as for boredom being a motivator for a walking away from a debate, yes, I can fully understand how some contributors would find it a tedious matter to actually do research to back up their claims when challenged, or to argue more than lazy non-sequiturs, or truly come to grips with their closed systems of logic.

Finally, as for your fear that I did not "bother to email" you about something I have been thinking of posting, I have not yet posted anything. So your presumption or fear that I "didn't bother" is quite groundless. Besides, I actually saw your early contributions to the debate as positive ones. It is only since then that you have veered away from normal language used by both lay people and historians, without advancing the argument. I also can't help finding it slightly interesting that it was soon after I said I would like to discuss the debate elsewhere that there was a sudden change in tone by at least one of the participants and withdrawal by another. Coincidence, I am sure ;-)

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.