Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Article Note: "Acts of Impropriety: The Imbalance of History and Theology in Luke Acts" (Gerd Lüdemann)

Gerd Lüdemann sent me a link to an article that he just published in the Toronto Journal of Theology 24 (2008) 65-79. He begins the piece with a stunning quote from Ernst Troeltsch:

"The historical method, once it is applied to biblical scholarship and church history, is a leaven which transforms everything and which finally causes the form of all previous theological methods to disintegrate. Give historical method your little finger and it will take your whole hand."

Reading the opening quote again made me lament the falling away of historical methods as post-modern trends have taken control of the academy. I am worried about the training of the next generation of scholars who are shying away from the hard historical-critical work because it is not as fashionable as post-modern analyses. What will this means twenty years from now? I can't emphasize enough how essential it is to do our own work - from the manuscript up. Textual work and historical-critical work is hard work. It is slow work. But without it, we cannot be sure that we are not making the same mistakes that our predecessors did, or worse, building upon them. Furthermore, there is a new historiography emerging and it needs to be tended.

So I want to thank Lüdemann for his careful historical-critical analysis of Acts. He brings up some tough historical hermeneutic issues in this piece, including the fact that our new historiography has revealed to us that no one writes entirely objective history. What does this mean for Acts, he asks? Go HERE FOR HIS ANSWER.


Richard Fellows said...

I was a little disappointed with this article. Ludemann doesn't say anything new, as far as I can tell. Furthermore he seems to simply assume his own conclusion, rather than present arguments. He criticises the historicity of Acts on two counts:

Firstly, he persists with his view that Acts misplaces the council chronologically. This view is largly based on the assumption that Paul's collection from Achaia and Macedonia was made in response to the request to "remember the poor" of Gal 2:10. This is unlikely. Even on Ludemann's chronology the completion of this collection was 3 years after the request was made and this would hardly fit Paul's assertion that he was eager. It is much more likely that the request was made in ~48 BEFORE the so-called second missionary journey and that Paul responded to it by IMMEDIATELY arranging a collection from south Galatia. This is the collection from Galatia that Paul mentions in 1 Cor 16:1-3 (which was not at the same time as the collection from Achaia and Macedonia, for it is not mentioned in Rom 15).

Ludemann's second assertion is that Luke distorts the response of the Roman authorities to the church. It is true, I think, that Luke under-states the opposition of the authorities to the movement. However, I think Ludemann is mistaken in assuming that Luke's intended readers within the church, who were a lot closer to the events than we are, would have been taken in by what he considers to be Luke's propaganda. It seems to me that Luke was trying to hide the truth from his enemies outside the church, rather than from his friends within it. It was a protective measure in case enemies of the church got hold of copies of the text.

Leon said...

Lüdemann has some interesting points to make in this article. But there is a general and specific problem with the so-called historical-critical method that no one is facing. There is nothing historical or critical about it. It is still dominated by theology, especially with respect to anything connected to Jesus' death. It still reads the texts through an anti-Jewish lens. One way to accomplish this is simply to erase the considerable pro-Jewish evidence in the NT.

Lüdemann says that Luke, both in his Gospel and in Acts, biases things against Jews and relieves Rome of responsibility. There is some evidence for this, but like every other scholar, Lüdemann is eliminating all the pro-Jewish evidence which Luke gives to contradict this. Here are some examples:

1) Acts 13:28 — Luke reports Paul saying there was no Jewish death penalty against Jesus, i.e., they "could charge him with nothing deserving death". It is actually easy to reconcile this with the rest of verse 28 and verse 27. My point is that historical criticism has taught everyone to not even consider it. This is not objective scholarship.

2) Acts 5:34-40 and 23:6-9 — Pharisees come to the aid of Jesus' followers. If the allegation against Jewish leaders in Jesus' death were true, the Pharisees would have done as much for Jesus either before or after the fact. The lack of any such thing in the record is one indication that Jewish leaders did not do anything bad to Jesus.

3) Acts 5:28 — The high priest complains to Peter and others that "you intend to bring this man's blood upon us", which of course means you will get us blamed for Jesus' death. That sounds like a protest against being falsely accused of complicity in Jesus' death. If the priests had really gone after Jesus, he would more likely have said we did our duty, or we had the authority to do it, or he was a troublemaker. The high priest says none of these things. His actual words sound more like a bitter complaint about being unjustly accused.

4) Luke 23:13-18 — The oldest copies of Luke are missing any mention of Pilate offering the crowd a choice. The crowd simply demands the release of Barabbas, for which there is a very good reason, as I have demonstrated in my work.

4) In Luke's so-called Jewish trial scene, there are no witnesses and no final verdict. It is not really a trial. It is much closer to John's informal scene. It also links up to Acts 13:28 where Paul says there was no Jewish death penalty.

5) The Pharisees invite Jesus to dinner several times (Lk 7:36, 11:37, 14:1) and warn him about Herod (13:31).

That is a lot of pro-Jewish evidence which most scholars earse from the record. To say that Luke presents a uniformly anti-Jewish view is simply untrue. He gives us plenty of evidence to contradict that view. The anti-Jewish theology is in scholars, not in Luke. There is more evidence in the other Gospels to corroborate this. Until scholars face up to the fact that the so-called historical-critical method continues to be as biased as it was when it began, we will never get anywhere. Objective discoveries are possible but not until scholars face up to their own prejudices.

Leon Zitzer