The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic

The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic

The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic

The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic

Synopsis

This study addresses the genre and interpretation of Luke through Acts in the light of its contemporary social, literary, and ideological milieu, particularly as these elements are reflected in the Latin epics contemporary with Luke-Acts and in their famous Augustan prototype, Virgil's Aeneid. Literary evidence indicating that Virgil's works had been translated into Greek prose by the middle of the first century makes this line of inquiry especially promising. Interpreting Luke-Acts as a prose adaptation of heroic or historical epic provides a hermeneutical model that is both universal in its theological message and essentially popular in its narrative presentation.

Beginning with the question of literary occasion, Bonz introduces the particular configuration of historical circumstances that produced the great foundational epics of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as the Aeneid, and suggests that the historical situation for the composition of Luke-Acts was closely analogous in key respects, for example: literary structure, epic journey, divine mission, prophecy, and reversal of destiny.

Excerpt

It is widely acknowledged that Luke-Acts, the largest single literary work in the New Testament, has incorporated a number of stylistic elements and literary motifs from the Septuagint. the precise manner and underlying significance of this appropriation of the Israelite past, however, are issues that have yet to be convincingly resolved. Indeed, although a broad consensus of current scholarship categorizes Luke-Acts as Hellenistic historiography, no major interpretive advances have developed from this hermeneutical model since the work of Hans Conzelmann in the 1950s. Conversely, more recent attempts to relate Luke-Acts to historical fiction have foundered on the problem of the inherently trivializing literary perspective of the ancient Greek novel.

This study addresses the genre and interpretation of Luke-Acts in the light of its historical, social, literary, and ideological milieu, particularly as these elements are reflected in the Latin epics contemporary with Luke-Acts and in their famous Augustan prototype, Virgil’s Aeneid. Literary evidence indicating that Virgil’s works had been translated into Greek prose by the middle of the first century makes this line of inquiry especially promising. Interpreting LukeActs as a prose adaptation of heroic or historical epic provides a hermeneutical model that is both universal in its theological message and essentially popular in its narrative presentation.

Beginning with the question of literary occasion, this study introduces the particular configuration of historical circumstances that produced the great foundational epics of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, as well as the Aeneid, and suggests that the historical situation for the composition of LukeActs was closely analogous in certain key respects. After a detailed examination of the salient elements of dramatic presentation, function, and interpretation of the Aeneid and its direct literary descendants is provided, the generic paradigm of epic is applied to the composition of Luke-Acts, beginning with a detailed exegetical analysis of Acts 2 and ultimately comprising a survey of Luke’s two-part work in its entirety.

The study concludes that, in his dynamic narrative presentation of a divinely ordained mission, which begins with Jesus in Nazareth and ends with Paul in Rome, Luke has endeavored to interpret the underlying meaning of the whole . . .

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