“RECEIVING ALL NATIONS” IN LUKE-ACTS
ALEXANDER THE GREAT OR ROMAN SOCIAL POLICY?*
David L. Balch
The ancient historian who is the author of Luke-Acts argues for the reception of all nations into the people of God, a social policy that is a radical contrast with the attitude toward foreigners expressed by the Priestly editors of the Pentateuch and by the Maccabean books.1 This paper investigates the antecedents of this social policy. There are structural parallels between Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, and Luke’s history that involve this social policy. I will very briefly set out some of those similarities and then ask another question: can we trace the origin of the language and the social inclusiveness involved back to Alexander the Great, i.e., back to a cultural impulse of Hellenism?
Without going into detail, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities,2 and Luke-Acts both divide history into three periods: First, they each inform about ancestors, second, they narrate a central period of history in which the Founder(s) teach(es); and third, they tell of the successors.3
* I offer this essay in graditude to Abraham Malherbe, a mentor whose ideas and approach to exegesis has been generative for me. This contribution builds on the sort of question he discusses in ‘“Not in a Corner’: Early Christian Apologetic in Acts 26:26,” in Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989) 147–63. John Fitzgerald’s suggestions as an editor have also been very helpful.
1 See my article “Attitudes toward Foreigners in 2 Maccabees, Eupolemus, Esther, Aristeas, and Luke-Acts,” in The Early Church in its Context: Essays in Honor of Everett Eerguson, ed. A.J. Malherbe, F. W. Norris, and J. VV. Thompson (NovTSup 90; Leiden: Brill, 1998) 22–47.
2 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, trans. E. Gary (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard, 1978).
3 I set out this argument most fully in “METABOAH ΠOΛITEIΩN: Jesus as Founder of the Church in Luke-Acts: Form and Function,” in Contextualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse, ed. T Penner and C. Vander Stichele (Symposium Series; Scholars Press and E.J. Brill, in press).