Response to the SBL 1994 Seminar Papers of Richard I. Pervo and Julian V. Hills

In Semeia 80 (1997) 147, Julian Hills writes:

Responses were invited from Richard J. Bauckham (1994), who had recently written on the Acts of Paul as a sequel to Acts (1993), and from Rordorf (1994). These responses have not been published, but were duplicated and distributed among those attending the November 19 meeting.

As the translator of that essay, I am pleased to publish that essay here on Acta Pauli:

Response to the SBL 1994 Seminar Papers of Richard I. Pervo and Julian V. Hills,

by Willy Rordorf

To begin with, I would like to thank my friend Dennis R. MacDonald for having sent me the two seminar papers in advance of the meeting at Chicago. I will use this opportunity by responding with a few brief comments. The American whom I have at hand, Peter W. Dunn, kindly produced the English translation of this text. By the way, he has just handed in, at the University of Cambridge, his doctoral thesis entitled, “The Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy.”

I am thrilled to realize the growing interest of some American researchers in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, but especially in the Acts of Paul. I am convinced that we here on the “old continent” can only profit from the fresh contribution which comes from these Americans, even though we cannot always agree with all of their hypotheses.

Concerning the papers of Pervo and Hills, I will limit myself here to a few general considerations which nevertheless seem important to me.

1. Richard I. Pervo expresses certain critical reflections about the needless to say, very stimulating study of Richard Bauckham on the APl as the sequel to the canonical Acts (p. 14f.). It is necessary to add the following point: M. R. James had already advanced this very same hypothesis in the JTS 6, (1905a:244-246), but he straightaway rejected it in an issue of JTS of the same year (1905b:549-556). This was due to his discovery of the Acts of Titus (ATit) which depends on the APl and show clearly that the APl, in a part which is now missing, recounted the Pauline mission beginning with the Apostle’s conversion at Damascus. Another, later source, a Panegyric to the Apostle Paul written by the rhetorician Nicetas of Paphlagonia, also depends on the APl and corroborates the evidence of the ATit (cf. Rordorf, 1989). Unfortunately, Bauckham has not taken into account these two secondary witnesses, the ATit and the Panegyric to the Apostle Paul, which in my eyes render impossible the thesis that the APl were a sequel to the canonical Acts. By the way, I have written to Bauckham, but he has not yet responded.

2. Nonetheless, I also have some criticisms of Pervo’s study.

(a) Eutychus and Patroclus (p. 8): In an unpublished study by Dennis R. MacDonald (which we had the pleasure here in Neuchâtel to hear when he came in June 1992), he tries to demonstrate the influence of the Homeric story about Elpenor on Acts 20.7f. Even if this hypothesis is true (which does not matter to me in the present discussion), it does not affect in any way the question of whether or not the APl depends on Acts 20.7f. The differences between the two accounts had incited me to exercise caution (cf. Rordorf, 1988). May I add that the story of Patroclus is indispensable to the logic of the episode in the APl, for it is the prelude to the Apostle’s martyrdom. Consequently, I responded to Dennis R. MacDonald with the following: Acts 20.7 is perhaps influenced by a literary antecedent, but the MPl derives from an oral tradition, a point of view which he himself maintained in his 1983 monograph, The Legend and the Apostle.

(b) Paul at Ephesus (p. 10-12): I am a little disappointed with Pervo’s argumentation on this subject. First he says, “If one were to argue for priority on the basis of coherence, [the] APl would seem to be more original.” Then, it is precisely this coherence of the account in the APl which becomes for Pervo the proof that its author arranged the account in Acts 19 which he knew! Here, I am going to stick to what I argued in my article of 1988 (“In Welchem Verhältnis … “), that the canonical Acts as well as the APl recount, both in their own way, the events to which Paul alludes in 2 Corinthians 1.8-9a, and that the APl adds to it a legend which itself was inspired by 1 Corinthians 15.32.

(c) The goodbyes before the last voyage (p. 12-14): This is a motif so common in Jewish, pagan and Christian literature that I don’t think that, on the basis of these parallel passages, one can use it to establish the dependence of the APl on the canonical Acts.

(d) While criticizing Bauckham’s study, Pervo speaks of the “irreconcilable conflict” (p. 21) between the different accounts of Paul’s conversion as they appear in the APl and the Lukan Acts. I agree with him there, but I would like to know how he explains this situation on the basis of his premise that the APl depend on the canonical Acts?

(e) I would ask the same question about the voyage of the Apostle to Rome. How does he explain the difference between the two stories. How and why was the author of the APl led to “correct” the Lukan account, which he knew according to Pervo?

(f) And last but not least, the fundamental question of the whole of his thesis: Apart from the episodes which we have mentioned, why is there no rapport between the Pauline itinerary and episodes recounted in Acts and the Pauline itinerary and episodes recounted in the APl? What does the correction of which Pervo speaks of Acts by the APl consist of? In my opinion, if indeed the author of the APl knew the canonical Acts, this correction would be too implicit and too indirect. It would be better to maintain, as I do, that the APl do not know Acts. I invite Richard I. Pervo to reconsider his own affirmation: “One must seek to account for not only what [the] APl has taken up and how it has be transformed but also for what has not been used and for what has been added” (p. 14).

3. After what has just been said, I will briefly respond to the study of Julian V. Hills. I am impressed by the meticulousness and the clarity of his paper, but concerning the conclusions he makes, I am very hesitant. As a matter of fact, he himself senses the difficulty when he writes, “The demonstration that the cycle of stories in the APl does not owe its origin to Acts is indeed a significant achievement–more significant, no doubt, than the issue pursued here” (p. 7).

Hill’s method of “proving” linguistically, through verbal reminiscences or through turns of phrase, a dependence of the APl on the canonical Acts (and the NT in general), often appears to me to be problematic (likewise his classifications of texts as “A”, “B”, “C” and “D”). In particular, he bases his argument repeatedly on the idea that a hapax legomenon or a rare expression in Acts (or in the NT) that reappears in the APl is a sign of a direct borrowing. This line of reasoning fails to convince me. In my opinion Hills relies to heavily on the hazards of the conservation of texts from antiquity. The spoken language was much richer than the few written vestiges which we still have. What gives us the right to say that a word was rare, just because it figures only rarely in the extant texts? That is like someone telling me that every word or expression with a little originality which just happens to come to my lips as I speak German, that these are borrowings from Goethe or from Schiller, merely because they also appear in the writings of these authors. That would be honoring my literary culture a bit too much, don’t you think?

Personally, I am satisfied with what W. Schneemelcher calls “devotional language” (p. 3-4), as an explanation of the “reminiscences” of Acts in the APl. On the other hand, the reminiscences of the Pauline Corpus which we find in the APl are of a different nature, as Peter W. Dunn shows in his Cambridge doctoral dissertation.

One Response to Response to the SBL 1994 Seminar Papers of Richard I. Pervo and Julian V. Hills

  1. […] And herein lies the trap I spoke of. If I judge that it comes from Acts, by the standard set in Rordorf’s remarks quoted above I might be guilty of relying too much on the accident of manuscript survival (see […]

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