Thursday, February 21, 2008

Interview with Richard I. Pervo re: Acts of the Apostles

1. How did you first get into study of Luke-Acts?

Haenchenish story: on an airplane trip to St Louis in 1970 (to meet with Board of Examining Chaplains) I read Acts in Greek. Had focused upon Gospels. (No one in those days taught courses entitled “Luke-Acts.”) In summer of `73, while studying for exams, read Haenchen’s commentary and argument with it. This set the path. (Had long viewed Acts as a Lieblingsbuch.)

2. Could you explain for us what you mean when you locate the genre of Acts as a analagous to an "ancient novel"?.

In 1987 Profit with Delight compared Acts with historical novels, but did not press the identification. This claim is sophistry: Ancient novels are romances. Acts is not a love story. Therefore Acts is not a novel. No one, to my knowledge, has called Acts a romantic novel. (Interaction with romantic novels is as early as the Acts of Paul). The issue has been the range of comparison. Does one stop at top shelf, or also look lower? The objective has been to read Acts in terms of popular literature. One may call it “apologetic history,” “popular narrative,” or whatever. “Historical novel” is acceptable. Acts is more like Alexander Romance and Artapanus than Thucydides or Polybius. (Both Greg Sterling and Richard Pervo point to Artapanus as a major model for comparison.)

The objections to viewing Acts as a specimen of historiography are major. This is a separate question from historical value (not handled aptly in Profit with Delight, which assumed, sometimes argued, historical problems as a means for urging wider generic exploration.) Acts is best viewed as a response to contemporary issues rather than as an attempt to extract historical data from various scraps of tradition.

3. In partnership with Mikeal Parsons you've argued that we should not automatically assume that Luke-Acts are a complete literary unity. Why so? How would you respond to critics?

Same trick. Mikeal Parsons and I (Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993]) took up question of various unities. Some are not disputed: authorial unity and canonical/reception disunity. Arguments for generic unity exist, but the majority do not hold this view. (Major problem is that, if the genres are identical and work essentially one, Luke is no longer a Gospel, but first part of longer work.) Theological unity is different if based upon Luke or upon Acts—not to deny range of theological unity. Narrative unity is hard to argue, for two books use different methods and techniques. (I have an essay responding to critics in a forthcoming volume edited by Andrew Gregory. Few critics—note Verheyden—actually respond to these issues. Howard Marshall grasped the point of our project, which was to challenge overall unity as a presupposition. This little book attempted to question unity as a dogma.) Parsons and Pervo argue that Acts should be viewed as a sequel to a Gospel. One cannot tell whether this was planned from the first. A gap of up to a decade may have separated the two.

4. I understand that you attribute a 115 AD date to Acts, on what basis do you make this decision?

110-120, latest c. 130. See my Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge). There I argue that Acts may have been used by Polycarp, c. 130—although not a ditch to die in. Luke used a collection, evidently, of Pauline letters and Josephus. Thus earliest is c. 100. Issues of theology and ecclesiology, notably “orders” of ministry, order of widows for latter, concern with various “heresies” for former, e.g., place Acts in world of the “Apostolic Fathers,” supported from vocabulary, etc. Luke is a critical collaborator with “early Catholicsm,” not an uncritical proponent of it. Doesn’t like bishops of Ignatian sort, but may tolerate them. No household codes. Also moving toward world of the apologists.

5. How does Acts relate to history in your opinion?

Positively. History is important for Acts. Salvation history is a means of establishing continuity between traditional religion (etc.) of Israel and Christianity. History is the realm in which God’s purpose is manifest. (Such arguments eschew “objective” history, which is discutable. This is to say that history is neither so clear nor so convenient as writers may wish. Luke knew this [Luke 13:1-9], but ignored it in his narrative.)

If the question is about the historical value of Acts, it becomes difficult. Acts contains history, but it is difficult to use, for the author favors stereotyped accounts, blending of disparate sources, and, when desired, invention of episodes. The first eight chapters have limited historical value. In so far as written sources were used, they mainly focused upon origins of the gentile mission, not the Jerusalem community.

6. What is your understanding of the origination of the Western text of Acts with its expansionist tendencies?

See article of Peter Head, "Acts and the Problem of Its Texts," in B.W. Winter and A.D. Clarke eds., Ancient Literary Setting. BIFCS 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1993, 415-44. Note also István Czachesz, “The Acts of Paul and the Western text of Luke’s Acts: Paul between Canon and Apocrypha,” in Jan Bremmer, ed., The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1996), 107-25. The D-Text has several tendencies and may not be a unity. If one follows Bosmard’s reconstruction, it may also abbreviate. One outstanding feature is that of pedantic copy editor sort of reader. Another is in tune with trends of c. 150. Thus D-Text can be seen as a bridge, at points, between Acts and APl. Where D-text most different from “Alexandrian” (which is not “original”) it is often missing—as in conversion of Paul. In general text of Acts is difficult. A number of corrupt passages. Emendation is sometimes needed. Nestle-Aland text cannot be taken for granted.

7. What would you posit as the overaching purpose of Luke/Acts?

Luke and Acts are legitimating narratives, most visible in the latter. This is expressed by demonstrating continuity of several types, between Israel and the Church, Peter, James, and Paul, goals of imperial civilization and church. This reaches toward apologetics. The legitimacy in question is that of gentile, Pauline Christianity from the perspective of Israelite heritage (which some were ready to toss overboard).

8. Who was Luke?

One can only seek to reconstruct implied author: male, gentile, probably born a believer, thoroughly familiar with LXX, basic but not advanced Greek education, writing from viewpoint of Ephesus.

9. What impact did the failure of the parousia to materialize have for Luke/Acts?

Luke clearly rejected view of parousia as a “spiritual” phenomenon. He did not care for “eschatological radicalism,” political revolt, grab sheets and head for a mountain top. Church must settle down in society (without selling out to it). Long range planning is in order. Let God worry about the end of the world. A notion of individual eschatology is beginning to creep in. (Orientation not unlike, mutatis mutandis, that of Middle Ages. If Lord is to return shortly, let’s build beautiful cathedrals in which to receive him.)

10. Your Hermeneia Acts commentary in scheduled for publication in Novemeber, what will be distinctive about it?

It will be the first commentary in some decades to date in era of transition from Trajan to Hadrian, build upon use of Pauline letters, Josephus. First substantial commentary to view Acts consistently in terms of ancient popular writing.

For students. When taking up a commentary (or monograph) it is vital to identify what questions the author is seeking to answer and to evaluate the results through judging the suitability of method(s) chosen and the depth of investigation, as well as author’s presuppositions, explicit and implicit. Prefer explicit in one’s own work. This is what I am going to do, how, and, most important, why. Appreciate the various strengths and degrees of expertise. Surveys of research should not just argue that all who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but seek to identify the particular contribution of each predecessor. Note always that conclusions are not to be derived from what X said about Y, but what Y actually said. (Examples of latter above.) Beware of those who pretend that showing some weaknesses in a particular argument prove its opposite. All arguments have weaknesses. Prefer those that solve more problems than they create. (For clergy the problem is acute when one grabs a commentary while preparing a sermon. Know your commentaries.)

11. What do you think are the areas of Luke-Acts that require further exploration (esp. for potential Ph.D candidates)?

Much to be done on intertextuality and reception—i.e., look both to predecessors and successors. Literary criticism that is sensitive not only to ancient rhetoric (and modern methods) but also to historical context. A good thesis would take up Luke and Artapanus (as well as other Jewish historians available only in fragments). (I am not fond of literary study that either ignores issues of historicity, or is based upon NRSV—and could have been written last week, or is a covert defense of “historicity.”) Haenchen dynamited source theories to clear field for attention upon what Luke wrote. Intertextual study has moved beyond mechanical source criticism.

Theological study should henceforth posit a setting and expound from that viewpoint rather than general abstraction. This is circular, but necessary. Conzelmann remains a model here. One may not agree with results, but will do well to follow model. O’Neill was half right—which is better than most.

Basically, the area must move from old arguments about Paul of Acts vs. Paul of letters to (Luke and) Acts as reception of Pauline and other theology. Then issues of church and society, eschatology, etc. can be given a fresh hearing.

Really good textual criticism that goes beyond apologetic for standard text. Inspiration is a doctrine, not a tool for textual criticism. (Anachronism prevails: Luke prepared, in some way, D-Text because no one would have tampered with inspired literature. This is ridiculous.) Reception history needs to walk hand in hand with textual criticism.

Positive evaluation of Lucan theology of glory that does not simply seek to rebut the claim. All theologies have their limits. Luke did not find Paul's theology generally relevant, but he played a major role in its preservation by constructing a way of reading Paul.

Dissertations that take up particular passages or sections in view of entire work are useful and needed. Scholarship proceeds tree by tree without forgetting that one is in a woods. I.e., both inductive and deductive—and be aware of which is in play.

12. Who would you rank as your favourite Luke-Acts (whoops, sorry, Luke/Acts) scholar?

In one sense would say H. J. Cadbury, striking out his caution. Best would be a combination of Cadbury, Haenchen, dropping his sarcasm, and the Venerable Bede. The last understood that Luke was a poet, the second that he was a theologian, albeit not systematic, the first that he was a writer. All three are necessary, but the greatest of these is the poet.


Chris Zeichmann said...

Thanks for posting the interview. I'm really looking forward to this commentary.

Charles Augustine Rivera said...

And fan of Bede's gets points in my book.

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview. I just got the book out of the library as part of my Marcion-Luke-Acts binge! I'm so excited I might get the hiccups.

Howard said...

Thanks for this interesting interview, altho the abbreviation style makes it a little tough to absorb easily. Great points in #11, particularly. In my view, while always for deeper scholarship, the even bigger need is to get current good scholarship more known and heeded at the pastoral and seminary leadership levels (Utopian wish: even in Evangelical circles). Particularly that Acts pulled off a literary/theological coup in coupling disparate (and competing) traditions and theologies of the early Church and creating the basis for "apostolic authority." And, with this, the appropriation of Israel's epic for budding Christianity (increasingly Gentile/Greek/Roman)