Slides: Genre and Historiography


Slide 1

Novel (Pervo), but….

Luke caricatures opponents:

 But all polemic (cf. Tacitus vs. Nero, Domitian)

 Pervo cites “rowdy mobs”- but also in histories

Can’t use later “acts” (derivative genre)

 Ancient novels usually romances (Thecia?)


 Only extremely rarely about historical characters

 And never recent ones (vs. history, biography): Jesus, Paul

 Novels would not include vast correspondences with history in Acts


Slide 2

Different genres

 Fictionalizing in narratives limited to tales, novels- crit’d in hist’s

 Lucian, Polybius (vs. Timaeus), slammed those with much error

 Historical prologue; sources


Slide 3

Adventures as in novels?

 Adventures: but also in histories

 E.g. Jos. War or Thucyd (because a war)

 Max. Tyre histories “pleasurable” at banquets

 Esp. popular historiography

 Hist. monographs even had “plots” (cf. Aristotle on plots)

 i.e. traits of all ancient lit. narratives

· Those in Acts not unlike 2 Cor 11- if anything, Luke toned them down!

 Hero, as in Hellenistic novels

 But also biographies!

 Useful element: interesting storytelling

 Can use similar narrative techniques in historiography, esp. at popular level!


Slide 4



 But such a genre did not exist: epics were in poetry

 Also normally distant past

 Possibly useful element: foundation story


Slide 5

Talbert: Biography

 Diog. Laert: philosophic biographies strung together

 Parallel lives

 Thus: Jesus- Peter- Paul

 But: what of Acts 6-8, and even 9-12?

 Rather: biographic approach to history


Slide 6

Biography as usually done

 History dealt with people’s praxeis: “acts”

 Some with biographic, economiastic focus

 But still history

 Exception: Ps- Callisth, (500 yrs after Alex.)

 Sometimes biographic volumes in multivolume history


Slide 7


 Majority view of scholars today

 Dibelious, Cadbury, Plumacher, L.T. Johnson, Hengel

 History could get some details wrong, yet still convey historical events (vs. novel, usually all fabricated)



 Preface (except L. Alexander)

 Correspondences with known data

 Focus on events

 Occasional synchronization (Lk 2:1-2; 3:1-2; Acts 18:12)

 “Historical novels”: quite rare (Ps.- Call; Xen, Cyr.)


Slide 8

Eduard Meyer

 20th century’s most famous historian of Greco- Roman antiquity

 Concluded that Luke was a great historian

 And that Acts, “in spite of its more restricted content, bears the same character as those of the greatest historians, of a Polybuis, a Livy, and many others”


Slide 9

What Kind of History?

Genealogy? Mythography? Horography (local history/annals)? Chronography (int’l)? History proper

 By topic, e.g.:




 Ethnographic? (history of a people- e.g., Babyloniaka)

 By motive:

 Apologetic? (Sterling)

 By form:

 Monograph (Plumacher, etc) (like Sallust’s works)


Slide 10

Form: monograph

 Popular level (with Pervo)

 But not Kleinliteratur vs. Volkliteratur

 Focus on intriguing narrative, but not the less history

 E.g., today: The Hiding Place; The Cross and the Switchblade; Inside Love


Slide 11

Apologetic ethnographic history

 Greeks caricatured others

Hence Manetho; others

 Josephus Ant:

 Israel has ancient history

 Judaism as religio licita? No

 Precedents of toleration


 Church has ancient history (heritage)

 Precedents: Pilate; Sergius Paulus; Galio; Festus


Slide 12

Rhetorical Sophistication in some

 Demanded by elites (looked down on NT)

 Allowed adjustments of detail for cohesiveness

 Emphasizes vividness

 Though Luke lacks ekphrasis

 Luke’s level:

-fairly popular, but on higher literary level than Mark

- literate, but not as sophisticated as Paul

- Not elite, but nowhere near to papyri

 Speeches (see below)


Slide 13

Rhetoric in History

 Narrative cohesiveness of Luke-Acts

 A whole story

 Goulder, Talbert, Tannehill


 Historians believed Providence created these patterns (Dion, Hal., Appian)

 Parallel lives:

. Plutarch looked for existing parallels

. did not obliterate differences

Slide 14

 Epideictic: assigning praise and blame

 Some (despite Polybius): sensationalism (esp. pathos)

 Elite hisorians

 Elaborations of scenes (not in Luke-Acts)

 E.g.; Josephus

 Necessary for book to sell!

 Popular historiography: good storytelling


Slide 15

Biases/Tendenz of Ancient Historians

 Modern ones, too (as noted by postmodernists)

 Cf. contrasting bios on Lincoln or Churchill

 Also explicit foci: church history, political history, women’s history, etc.

 But more overt in antiquity

-sometimes explicit narrative asides

- Nationalistic biases (Plutarch vs Hdt)

- Moral lessons (“responsible” historians)

- Selection of facts for purpose not fabricating them


Slide 16

Theological perspectives

Historians looked for divine hand:

 Looked for patterns in history (hence parallels)

 Divine providence (Dionysius of Halicarnassus; Josephus)

 Jewish writers updating biblical history

. Jubilees


Slide 17

Accuracy? Varied by historian

 Tacitus, Thucydides, Polybius, more than Herodotus, Strabo or Plutarch


. Unreliable on population estimates and distances- but didn’t measure

. Reliable on most architectural data and events



 Wide degree of latitude on details

 Had to get bulk of story right (in so far as sources accurate)

. used criterion of coherence of historical setting

. preferred writers closer in time to events

. especially eyewitnesses


Slide 18

 Objectivity the goal

 Thus scholars debate which way Sallust leaned

 Chronology not always available

 Used in Polybius, Thucydides, Tacitus (military)

 Not available for oral sources

 Use of sources:

. rarely omniscient narrators

. usually citied varying sources

                        e.g. 7 on one side, 4 on the other

                        exceptions: if events are recent, or popular level

. eyewitnesses preferred

 Meticulously careful with his sources in the Gospel (Luke 1:1-4)


Slide 19

My observation

 Ancient historians covering the same period retold the same events

 But they often filled in detailed scenes where they lacked access to information

 Substance had to be correct

 But they rounded out scenes for good storytelling


Slide 20

2 Dangers

 Assuming that ancient historiography = modern historiography

-Thus judging it by modern rules

-Ultraconservatives and some skeptics (e.g. Acts 5: 37-38)

-Accuracy in substance, events, not all fleshed-out details (e.g., conversations)

 Assuming that ancient historiography had “nothing to do” with historical information

This is throwing the baby out with the bath water.


Slide 21

Novels and history WERE distinct genres in antiquity!


-       Good biographers avoid flattery that falsifies events (Hist.12)

-       Only bad historians invent data (24-25)

 Pliny the Younger

-       What is distinctive about history is its concern for accurate facts


-       Unlike encomium, history must assign praise and blame according to one’s actions


Slide 22

 More on Pliny:

-       History’s primary goal: truth and accuracy, not rhetorical display (Ep.7.17.3)

-       Rhetoric was acceptable provided one’s basis was facts (8.4.1)


-       Difference between “poetry” and “history”

. Not their form (one could write history in verse)

. But their content: history must deal with what happened, not just with what might happen


Slide 23

Critical Historiography

 Contrary to modern ethnocentric bias

 Ancients did practice critical historiography

-       (much modern practice from Polybius vs Timaeus)

 Questioned sources

-       Examined writers’ biases

-       Tested consistency with geography, ruins, internal consistency, etc.

 Preferred particular sources

-       Preferred the earliest sources, nearest the events

-       Preferred eyewitnesses

-       Preferred those least apt to be biased

-       Compared multiple sources


Slide 24

Even Josephus

 He rewrites biblical narratives

-       Sometimes he creates new speeches for these narratives

-       He elaborates rhetorically

-       Omits Golden Calf (apologetic)

 Yet he retains the basic substance of the biblical stories

 His own period: archeology confirms in great detail


Slides 25

Most Importantly:

 Historians on ancient events

-admitted much of ancient past shrouded in fiction

 Historians on recent events

-       Valued eyewitness testimony

-       Gathered oral reports (cf. Lk 1:1-4)

-       Must be reliable on events


Slides 26

Is Acts entertaining? Yes

 But historians sought to write in entertaining ways

 The difference between novels and histories:

-       Not that only one sought to entertain

-       But that only one also sought to inform

-       Ancients believed one could use truth to teach moral lessons and to entertain as well.


 Slide 27

Testing Luke’s own case

 Luke’s method?

-       Available to us in his preface

-       Available by comparing Mark


Slide 28


 Preface should announce what is to follow

 Luke’s promised content

-       Lk 1:1,3: “an orderly narrative of the things fulfilled among us”

-       Lk 1:4: to confirm what Theophilus had learned about such events


Slide 29

Luke 1: 1-4 tells us much about sources available to Luke.

1.    Written sources (1:1)

2.    Oral sources (from eyewitnesses) (1:2)

3.    Luke confirmed this with his own investigations (1:3)

4.    Luke couldn’t “fudge,” since the material was already widely known in the early church (1: 4)











Last modified: Sunday, April 7, 2019, 2:37 PM