Dating Luke-Acts: Joe Tyson on Bible and Interpretation

Joe Tyson has another great article at Bible and Interpretation discussing the various implications for dating Luke-Acts, and argues persuasively in my opinion for a late date.  Please do read the article, entitled ‘When and Why Was the Acts of the Apostles Written?‘.  Here are some snippets:

The range of proposed dates for Acts is quite wide, from c. 60 CE-150 CE. Within this range of dates, three are prominent in the scholarly literature: an early, an intermediate, and a late date.

A growing number of scholars prefer a late date for the composition of Acts, i.e., c. 110-120 CE.3 Three factors support such a date. First, Acts seems to be unknown before the last half of the second century. Second, compelling arguments can be made that the author of Acts was acquainted with some materials written by Josephus, who completed his Antiquities of the Jews in 93-94 CE. If the author of Acts knew of some pieces from this document, he could not have written his book before that date. Third, recent studies have revised the judgment that the author of Acts was unaware of the Pauline letters. Convincing arguments have been made especially in the case of Galatians by scholars who are convinced that the author of Acts not only knew this Pauline letter but regarded it as a problem and wrote to subvert it.4 They especially call attention to the verbal and ideational similarities between Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and show how the dif-ferences may be intended to create a distance between Paul and some of his later interpreters and critics.

A great deal rides on decisions about the date of Acts, which unfortunately cannot be de-termined with certainty. But judgments about the probable time of its composition inevitably af-fect the ways we read the book. If we think it was an early eye-witness account, it may be read as a basically reliable story of the first Christian generation. If we think it was written toward the end of the first century, we might read it with an effort to assess the author’s understanding of Christianity as a Gentile movement with Jewish roots but without Jewish believers. If we think it was a second-century text, we might regard it as an effort to counteract historical and theological teachings that challenged what the author believed to be basic to the Christian movement. This way of reading Acts would show that its author played a central role in the very process of defin-ing Christianity.6

When and Why Was the Acts of the Apostles Written? – The Bible and Interpretation.

8 Responses

  1. Has any one come up with a formula for determining the odds for dependency on another written source? you think with plagiarism being an issue at so many levels this would be done.

    I find the issue of Luke using Josephus as his source compelling, in particular the discussion on Luke’s Road to Emmaus discussion and the infamous “Testimonium Flavium”.

    regarding Acts 15 and Galatians 2, while we all agree that they discuss the same event, I will have to see a more in depth break down to say this is dependent on that as opposed to two articals about the same event, though it would not be surprising that a fan of Paul like Luke would be familiar with some of Paul’s letters. It would, I think, be more strange that he had heard of none of them! I would have to imagine though that the corpus of letters would have been in a state of flux for some while, and Luke does not seem to have made careful use of the ones we know of.

    On his point regarding Luke as an anti-Macion text, didn’t Marcion use Luke? Is there doubt that Acts was written by the same author as Luke? Again I would have to see a more detailed argument for Luke as anti marcionic, because while it certainly doesn’t support his reported positions, a number of other works don’t either and they are not all written to counter Marcion

  2. The formula is already established, Mike. Intertextuality is a well-established subject with well-established methods. The most authoritative methods are developed by Dennis R. MacDonald. But there are other already useful means, such as using Bays Theorem for determining probability; if you use this in conjunction with those for Intextuality, you can create a pretty unassailable case. The established links between Luke-Acts and Josephus are pretty straightforward and well-known, however. Josephus and the New Testament lays out the links (though Mason does not pick a side); also see Richard Carrier’s article on this subject.

    Also, Luke’s use of Paul is well-known as well. See my post here (in response to Keener’s article on B&I) for additional sources, and also these:

    See Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts, 18-19; H. Leppä, “Luke’s Critical Use of Galatians” (Ph.D. diss., University of Helsinki, 2002); W. O. Walker, Jr., ‘Acts and the Pauline Corpus Reconsidered’, JSNT 7/24 (1985), 3-23; idem., ‘Acts and the Pauline Corpus Revisited: Peter’s Speech at the Jerusalem Conference’ in R. P. Thomas and Th. E. Phillips, eds., Literary Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays in Honor of Joseph B. Tyson (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998), 77-86; R. I. Pervo, Dating Acts Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2006), 73-102; T. Penner, ‘Civilizing Discourse: Acts, Declamation, and the Rhetoric of the Polis’ in Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele, eds., Contextualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse, SBLSymS 20 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 2003) 65-104; Th. L. Brodie, ‘Towards Tracing the Gospels’ Literary Indebtedness to the Epistles’, in D. R. MacDonald, ed., Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001), 104-116.

    The studies are available and out there. Dive in. =)

  3. I’m not sure how authoritative MacDonald’s methods are. How many scholars in any field do you think refer to his work? I didn’t find his work at all convincing, and if you want to know why not, i recommend you to “Imitatio Homeri? An Appraisal of Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism”” -Karl Olav Sandnes Journal of Biblical Literature Vol: 124 Issue: 4 ISSN: 0021-9231 Date: 12/2005 Pages: 715 – 732 , who has taken the time to do a full treatment of his first work on the subject. the follow up doesn’t do any better. I don’t think Bays theorem would help his case. I will look around though, again, surely someone has put thought into this question.

  4. I suspect you haven’t read MacDonald.

  5. Dennis replied to this article here:

    Also see Richard Carrier’s review here:

    And MacDonald is cited in every major work on the subject. )cf. B. Louden, Homer’s Odyssey and the Near East; R.Kundu, Intertext:A Study Of The Dialogue… Between Texts; N.K. Gupta, Worship That Makes Sense to Paul:A New Approach to the Theology and Ethics of Paul’s Cultic Metaphors; M.W. Meyer, Secret Gospels: Essays on Thomas and the secret Gospel of Mark; S. Matlock-Marsh, ‘Symbolism of Language: A Study in the Dialogue of Power Between the Imperial Cult and the Synoptic Gospels’ [Dr. Diss.]; H. Bloom, Homer’s The Odyssey; J. Stackert, Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation; and there are many, many more)

  6. Your suspicions are incorrect. But thank you for the link to MacDonald’s rebuttal. I don’t think it over comes the weakness of his argument, which strikes me as bit like like seeing shapes in clouds; some people see it and some don’t. It and Carriers review, which I had read awhile ago, do illustrate the terrible amount of injection of politics and theology in this field of study, but I suppose no field of history that anyone cares about is free of these high emotional stakes.

    I’ll have to remember to make a note of all the references to MacDonald’s work I find in the future.

  7. What weaknesses? You’ll have to give me an example.

  8. Sorry, Tom, I’m a bit busy. Personally I’m a little surprised that you find MacDonald’s work on this issue compelling at all. While it is true that the gospel writers were likely familiar with Homer, I don’t think this can be deduced from their work. If you don’t find the arguments of Sandnes or Mitchell(which i just had a chance to recently read) convincing, I don’t think i have any thing to add. if you had not read them, i do recommend them, but i will explain my issues as briefly as i can.

    The similarities between Mark and Homer, particularly the Odyssey, are simply to vague to be used as evidence that the author had those works in mind when he was writing Mark. I mean it is likely that when one tells a story (or hears) about x it invokes in their minds other stories with the same elements as story x but it would be difficult to narrow down what other stories Mark had on his mind with out clear evidence of dependence. MacDonald sees it that way, but it sound to me like the discussion one could hear any time someone is asked to compare and contrast two text. There will be similarities and their will be differences.

    In the defense you linked to from MacDonald, he uses an illustration from his first book, I don’t recall all of his examples from his book so I’m trusting he is using one of the stronger cases and not the weakest. This a comparison of Jesus stilling the storm and Odysseus’s crew opening the bag of wind. Mac lines up the points that are held in common or that neatly reverse but the two stories are very different when you read them in their entirety. also if you compare mark with the storm in Jonah you see the same points of similarity, and of course there is much more evidence that Mark would be aware of Jonah than the Odyssey. There really is no compelling reason to look to the Odyssey too. It also shows that the elements of boat, some one teaching or preaching, crew scared and incompetent, hero asleep, and storm at sea can appear in a cluster with their being no mimesis at work, unless we are to claim that Jonah is based on Odysseus. to say we should see it as playing off both is hard to support. How many other storm at sea stories should we imagine mark commenting on here? His broad outline for Mark doesn’t do any better, it simply isn’t specific enough and at times is forced, again, time prevents a case by case explaining of this, but that should be obvious. MacDonald using his techniques could have made a case for mark being a mimesis for virtually every work of the classical age. As the Jonah example shows, Mac’s criteria can’t be said to be able to mathimatically show dependence.

    That the comparison is so vague I think makes it impossible to prove, as Casimir Bernas said in his review of “Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?” in Religious Studies Review
    Volume 32, Issue 3, page 194, July 2006. That would seem to show that if this is mimesis, it isn’t a very good one, and certainly we no of no one from the culture that produced mark, Hellenistic Christians, that sees Mark in this light.

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