Dennis MacDonald vs. Dennis MacDonald

Question:  Is the Patroclus’ story in Acts of Paul XIV dependent on the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12?

In 1983 Dennis R. MacDonalid wrote in his stimulating monograph on the Acts of Paul, The Legend and the Apostle:  The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (p. 25-26):

It is possible, of course, that the author knew of the story from Acts and substituted Patroclus’ name for Eutychus, but it is also possible that both he and the author of Acts knew of the story from oral tradition.  Only our Western prejudice for written dependence would make us think the author picked this story out of a book and not out of the tale-rich air.

I met MacDonald for the first time in 1992, when he presented a paper in French (bravo!) to Willy Rordorf’s undergraduate seminar on the Acts of Paul at University of Neuchatel.  The title of the paper was, “Les Actes de Paul et les Actes des Apotres canoniques:  Le cas d’Eutyche et Patrocle”.  Another English version of this paper later appeared in the Journal of Higher Criticism 1 (1994) 4-24, entitled “Luke’s Eutychus and Homer’s Elpenor:  Acts 20:7-12 and Odyssey 10-12“.   In it he writes:

Pursuing a suggestion of Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Willy Rordorf argued that the author of The Acts of Paul did not know of the tale from the canonical Acts but from oral tradition.  Unfortunately, Rordorf does not make his argument from an analysis of the stories themselves but from cumulative observations concerning the relationship between Acts and The Acts of Paul. The two stories do bear remarkable similarities—too many and too closely verbal to have derived from oral tradition.

Now it is curious that MacDonald seems to have amnesia about his own position of eleven years earlier.  In Legend, his view of oral tradition is germane to his whole argument (that the Pastoral Epistles battle the oral traditions later told in the Acts of Paul).


One Response to Dennis MacDonald vs. Dennis MacDonald

  1. […] and falling into a trap which she calls a “literate bias”.  As I had mentioned before, Dennis R. MacDonald contradicts himself similarly in regard to the Patroclus/Eutychus story.  Like Thomas, he says bias leads to the suggestion of literary dependence:  “Only our […]

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