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.
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.
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.