CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Having addressed Neil's introductory remarks, this post starts to address his arguments concerning the preface of Acts.

Neil begins by quoting only the preface of Acts and dismissing the preface to Luke. Since the overwhelming opinion of scholars, supported by good reason and argument, is that Luke-Acts is a two-part work, with Acts relating back to Luke and its preface, there is no good reason to ignore Luke's preface. So here I recite both prefaces.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1.

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1.

Most people reading these prefaces, including most scholars knowledgeable on the subject, conclude that the author is telling us that he intends to write history. As Professor Gasque notes, “the majority of interpreters would [conclude] that his preface indicates he has historical pretensions.” W. Ward Gasque, “A Fruitful Field, Recent Study of the Acts of the Apostles,” Interpretations 42.04 (1998), pages 119.

Neil, of course, has already dismissed nearly all of academia except Pervo and a few others. But on what basis does he claim that the above prefaces do not support the view that Luke-Acts is within the genre of ancient historiography? I will attempt to understand his points as best I can, but in this instance they are a bit rambling and unorganized. So I will revise my response if Neil further clarifies his points.

Initially, I want to clarify two points. First, no one argues that Luke-Acts is history simply because it has prefaces. It is because of the type of prefaces it has and what they say that scholars take them as important evidence of genre. Second, Neil seems to caricature the treatment of the prefaces by others, implying that they are taken as irrefutable evidence of genre. Surely even Neil can agree that the author’s stated purpose for writing is an important piece of evidence in understanding the purpose of his writing. If not, then I suspect nothing could convince him. But to say that a preface is an important indicia of genre is not to say that other factors are irrelevant.

The core of Neil's case appears to be some one liners from Pervo without citation, argument, or support, to which is added a note about Loveday Alexander’s treatment of the prefaces. As for Pervo, I have addressed his arguments in depth in my article on Acts (here). I also have written about a review by Marion Soards that provides a good glimpse into the reasons for the (lack of) impact Pervo’s theory has had on the academic view of Luke-Acts’ genre. I will address Neil's one liners and then address his argument regarding Loveday Alexander. A more detailed discussion of the various examples of prefaces from ancient literature will occur in another post.

1. Neil and Pervo think it problematic that the preface in Acts is related to the preface in Luke. But Neil explicitly declines to discuss why. Because Neil has declined to make a case, I feel little obligation to respond to him on this point. To the extent he is trying to saddle any historical difficulties in Luke’s gospel on Acts, I would note that no ancient history, no matter how firmly fixed in the genre, is without historical difficulties.

2. Neil argues that the similarities of the prefaces in Luke-Acts to those in Josephus means “no more than that they conform to late first-century c.e. historical style.” I am not sure what to make of this point. If Luke-Acts’ prefaces are written in a historical style, surely that is much of the point? It demonstrates that the author intended to convey the idea that he was writing history.

3. Neil argues that prefaces “were highly conventional, and probably taught in school. Their claims could be parodied.” The fact that prefaces were highly conventional actually is evidence for taking their style and statements seriously as indicating authorial intent. That they “could” be parodied is hardly a persuasive point. Nor is it relevant. Neil does not claim that Luke-Acts is a parody, he claims it is an ancient romance novel. To get an idea of how a parody works, you can read Lucian’s A True Story. They are not subtle and are not attempts to pass off their works as authentic.

4. Neil argues that prefaces “were not the preserve of historians. Novelists could use them to create verisimilitude.” No one disputes that prefaces were used by other genres. And in those other genres, the prologue usually indicates what genre will follow, just as it does in Luke-Acts. Neil’s claim that ancient novelists could use a preface to “create verisimilitude” needs clarification and examples. Does he mean to say that ancient novelists often used prefaces that sounded like ancient historiography so as to pass their works off as something other than a novel? Pervo makes the same claim in his book and provides a footnote supposedly supporting this point. I checked it expecting to find examples of ancient novels that had prefaces that pretended to be writing historiography. I found none. The footnote simply refers the reader to a later part of his book that also provides no such examples.

5. Neil latches on to an article that very briefly mentions Loveday Alexander’s theory that the preface to Luke is indicative of ancient scientific treatises rather than ancient historiography. Neil quotes one of only two sentences from the article mentioning Alexander. Has he read anything by Alexander? I am unsure.

In any event, Alexander admits that her work focuses more on style rather than content. Even so, the distance she finds between Luke-Acts and prefaces in ancient historiography are in large part the result of her focus on Thucydides; said focus painting a distorted picture of the historiography genre. As recently observed by Sean A. Adams, “[w]ith her specific focus on Thucydides as the archetypal historiographer, she does not realize that Thucydides usually does not fall near the centerline of the spectrum, but is towards the extremes.” “Luke’s Preface and its Relationship to Greek Historiography: A Response to Loveday Alexander,” JGRCh.J 3 (2006), 190.

When compared to the broader spectrum of ancient historiography, Luke’s preface falls very much within it. For example, an important reason underlying Alexander's conclusion that the preface in Luke is not that of ancient historiography is that it is too short. While it is true that Thucydides had a twenty-three chapter preface, such a comparison is “misrepresenting the typical preface lengthy for a Greek historian.” Adams, op. cit., page 182. Not only is Thucydides work itself much longer than Luke-Acts, but his preface is also much longer than is typical of ancient historiography. When Luke's preface is compared with the likes of Diodorus, Herodotus, Josephus, Plutarch, Polybius, and Xenephon, “the size of the preface in relation to the length of the work is comparable and well within the ratio of other Greek historians.” Id. at 183. The same article provides good discussions of how the theme, style, dedication, and reference to sources in Luke's preface fit within the spectrum of prefaces to ancient works of historiography.

In any case, to the extent Alexander has valid points, how do they prove that Acts is an ancient romance novel? After all, Alexander does not argue that the preface is like those of ancient novels, but that it is like ancient scientific treatises, such as medical writings. Obviously, as Alexander admits, Luke-Acts is not an ancient medical treatise. So what could be going on? Perhaps Luke-Acts was written by someone influenced by such a genre. As Professor Huffman asks, “What would a preface look like if someone from the intermediate sociocultural stratum (who also worked within the scientific tradition and was familiar with its literature) wanted to write historiography?” Douglas F. Huffman, “Review,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 40.1 (1997). Or, one could ask, what would a preface look like if an educated Christian, such as a doctor, chose to write a history of this new movement? It might look like a preface stating an intent to write history but influenced in its mechanics by the author’s experience with scientific treatises.

Next, we will look more closely at Neil's references to prefaces in other works of antiquity.

12 comments:

Woops, sorry, but your opening clause is not quite correct. It should read: "Having addressed my re-write of Neil's introductory remarks . . ." Interesting that there was scarcely a single complete quotation of anything I actually said but only a distorted rewrite of my words.

You can see a more honest approach to dialogue in my responses where I do actually quote your sentences and paragraphs and actually address what you write -- not what I twist you to be saying.

Trust you will acknowledge and correct this error in future,
Neil

Neil,

Good to see you back after telling me that you would not debate me anymore. Or perhaps I misunderstood.

I made sure to link to your piece in every Part of the Response, so all can review what it is to which I am responding.

Feel free to correct any misleading or inaccurate characterizations of your arguments or views.

If you do not believe Acts is more of an ancient romance novel than ancient historiography, I do apologize and would look forward to a fuller explanation of your views.

If you do not believe the fact that Acts is written for a popular audience is relevant to genre, then I apologize and would look forward to a fuller explanation of your views.

If you do not believe that religious upbringing and bias is a reason so many scholars classify Acts as history, then I apologize and would look forward to a fuller explanation of your views.

I do quote you more extensively in Parts 2 and 3, mostly because there was more to quote, so please let me know if your concern is limited to Part 1.

You set up a lot of questions about what I "believe". What difference does what I believe make? If you want to know the theme and thrust and purpose of my posts then I have made it all quite plain. You seem to be incapable of avoiding reading intentions and meanings into my posts that are simply not there.

By the way, I had no idea it was you, "Layman", who was writing these straw man critiques till now. I don't recall seeing any name at the end of the original posts at all. But knowing it is you, the fact that your "responses" generally ignore what I am actually writing and the purpose of my posts, -- it all falls into place now. Thanks for letting me know.

Neil

Substitute "argue" for "believe if that makes you comfortable. I assumed you really believed what you were arguing.

All the posts say "posted by Layman" near the end. I also mentioned I was writing responses to you in the comments section of the Achilles section. Sorry you missed both.

Please tell me what you are "actually writing" and the "purpose" of your posts and I'll be happy to respond further.

This comment has been removed by the author.
This comment has been removed by the author.

Pst, Layman, you may not have noticed but I have written over and over on my blog that one of my purposes is to share the notes I have taken from various authors I have read with others. To introduce new questions and ideas.

I do present some posts as arguments, but even then I stress the tentativeness of them.

Sorry to disappoint you, but you are attacking a windmill here. Your quest to wage a war on any who raise critical questions about established dogma virtually unchanged since Irenaeus and Tertullian is simply misplaced with this particular series of posts.

We are not all living lives of warriors. Your repeated charge I am "attacking Christianity" reveals the reasons for your misunderstanding of my posts all too well, -- as I have discussed elsewhere. But I refrain from mentioning where since someone on this blogsite has a habit of deleting any post of mine if I do refer to a certain other blog.

But having said that, even your arguments against what you think I am arguing simply lack coherence and logic, not to mention the regular misrepresentations of what I actually do write in note form! To that extent I will probably address them some time.

Neil,

Once again you delete what you write and write something else, think better of it, then delete that, then write something again. Perhaps I am not the one who is so emotionally entangled in this situation.

I away your very considered response.

Pst, Layman, you may not have noticed but I have written over and over on my blog that one of my purposes is to share the notes I have taken from various authors I have read with others. To introduce new questions and ideas.

I am not responding to your entire blog, but to a series of posts you wrote after denying Acts was ancient history.

I do present some posts as arguments, but even then I stress the tentativeness of them.

Like this tentative statement about Pervo: "I have read many ancient novels over recent years — and many ancient historians over a longer period of time — and fully agree with him."

Or this tentative repeat of someone's notes: "The prologue of itself cannot assign Acts to the genre of historiography."

Or this: "But we can’t expect to be persuaded without seeing some examples."

Sorry to disappoint you, but you are attacking a windmill here. Your quest to wage a war on any who raise critical questions about established dogma virtually unchanged since Irenaeus and Tertullian is simply misplaced with this particular series of posts.

I am hardly waging war. I enjoy the subject of Luke-Acts very much and you've got about the only online game going in that regard.

I am not responding to anyone who raises questions, but what appeared to be arguments made by you.

We are not all living lives of warriors. Your repeated charge I am "attacking Christianity" reveals the reasons for your misunderstanding of my posts all too well, -- as I have discussed elsewhere. But I refrain from mentioning where since someone on this blogsite has a habit of deleting any post of mine if I do refer to a certain other blog.

Not sure how many times I repeated that "attacking" charge. Don't think I did at all in this series of Responses. Are you keeping count? What are we up to?

We have a pretty restrained deletion policy and BK usually shows more restrained than I do. We're not perfect, but very tolerant of differing views.

But having said that, even your arguments against what you think I am arguing simply lack coherence and logic, not to mention the regular misrepresentations of what I actually do write in note form! To that extent I will probably address them some time.

Forgive me for thinking that your statements about "full agree[ing]" with Pervo, and of trying to "persuad[e]" us of your opinion on prologues or that your "Conclusion" section meant to conclude that "The prologue of itself cannot assign Acts to the genre of historiography." (emphasis added).

All quite tentative, right? And no reason to think you agree with Richard Pervo.

I would add that sometimes I was puzzled by your how you presented your thoughts and some of the cut and paste approach to the post; which is why I couch some of my characterizations of your arguments with words like "apparently" and "I guess...." or that "it is unclear why..." or that "The core of Neil's case appears to be..."

Oh, and this statement: "I will attempt to understand his points as best I can, but in this instance they are a bit rambling and unorganized."

In conclusion (mine, not someone else's), I'll admit that you might have been more tentative than I understood you to be or that I missed what you were arguing. I don't agree, however, that the blame for any such understandings is entirely my fault.

This comment has been removed by the author.

Layman wrote: "We have a pretty restrained deletion policy and BK usually shows more restrained than I do."

Vridar responds: Yes, I noticed your stooping to the vilest slimiest filthy dirt in your first post -- I have lost all respect for you as a person since that post, which unfortunately probably shows. Just don't try to tell me I should learn to think like the likes of you. You should get a job as a lawyer where such gutter tactics are the standard tools of the trade. You'd do well.

As for the "emotional entanglements" you discern in my deletions -- Well, yes, I do try to get grammatical and spelling errors corrected. Unlike some people who seem not to even know the difference between "tome" and "tomb", "eminent" and "imminent" -- but I do assure you my errors were nothing so basic.

Oh, and yeh -- I deleted the previous post to correct and add one more point here. Adios!

Yes, I noticed your stooping to the vilest slimiest filthy dirt in your first post -- I have lost all respect for you as a person since that post, which unfortunately probably shows. Just don't try to tell me I should learn to think like the likes of you. You should get a job as a lawyer where such gutter tactics are the standard tools of the trade. You'd do well.

I was speaking of the deletion policy. But are you speaking of the "spare me the details" comments? You are reinforcing my opinion of you in that regard in your 'responses' to my Response.

But its good to see you've not gotten emotionally invested in our discussions.

As for the "emotional entanglements" you discern in my deletions -- Well, yes, I do try to get grammatical and spelling errors corrected. Unlike some people who seem not to even know the difference between "tome" and "tomb", "eminent" and "imminent" -- but I do assure you my errors were nothing so basic.


I have read all your deleted posts, and I seem to remember changes other than just grammatical and spelling error corrections.

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.