The Speeches in Acts
and Ancient Historiography
The historian’s art begins where he no longer contents himself with collecting and framing traditional events, but endeavors to illuminate, and somehow to interpret, the meaning of the events. Delight in knowledge and desire to understand must unite in his soul, otherwise history remains a heap of facts or dissolves into pseudo-prophecy. The questions of sequence of events, development, and meaning need not necessarily be unequivocally answered, but the possibilities offered in reply to the questions must help to make the subject clearer to the reader. It may be that the deeper meaning of things will be inherent in the portrayal itself, or that the historian will give his own judgment, concurrently with the story, upon the events that take place. Finally, it may be that the persons involved speak and indicate the meaning of the events either in a speech or in argument.1
This last method has become foreign to us. When considering historical characters, we expect the account not only of their actions but also of their speeches to conform to the standards of reliable tradition, and we wish to hear reported in an historical account only words genuinely spoken by the persons involved. Since authentic words are usually spoken on the spur of the moment and do not often penetrate to the deeper significance of the occasion, it is relatively seldom that an authentic speech can serve to make the situation clear, in any fundamental way, for the historian.
Historical writing in ancient times began from a different point of view. There, speech was regarded as “the natural complement of the deed”;2 to the Greek and the Roman historian, speeches served as a means for their purpose, however differently this purpose might be conceived. The ancient historian was not aware of any obligation to reproduce only, or even preferably, the text of a speech which was actually made; perhaps he did not know whether a