Luke's "Jewish" Paul
Previous scholarship on Paul in Acts focuses on reconstructing the historical Paul from a critical comparison of the discordant portraits of the apostle in the letters and in Luke’s second story. As such, the throbbing question that drove not a few scholars was “Which depiction reveals the real Paul?” With a productive surge in the narrative criticism of Acts, many literary critics have redirected their efforts to Luke’s sociologically tinged rhetoric, which undergirds a more pertinent concern: “What is Luke describing through his depiction of Paul?” Scholars representative of a narrative reading of Acts include: Richard I. Pervo, Daniel Marguerat, and François Bovon, to name a few. They all agree that the portrayal of Paul in Acts tells the reader more about the sociocultural situation of Luke’s group than about the historical Paul. Despite this scholarly achievement, the air of anti-Semitism still saturates the atmosphere of Acts scholarship. Hence, it is evident that narrative criticism by itself is insufficient to decipher the subtle rhetoric Luke employs to relate his story. Couched in a tensed tale of sibling rivalry, the familiar lexeme, “the Jews,” which is frequently correlated with the “Christian” Paul, is imbued with a subtle nuance: diaspora Jewishness. Neglectful of recent critical discussions on the parting of Judaism and early Christianity and the foci of the Redescribing Christian Origins project of the SBL, many well-intentioned narrative critics of Acts have succumbed to a traditional reading of Acts evincing an anti-Semitic worldview. This cannot be further from the truth. By contrast, I argue in this work that if narrative criticism is refined by means of the critical deductions of social scientists, and if these conclusions are polished by the perceptive study of historians of religion, it will lead to the articulation of a setting in which Luke’s project may be viewed as participating in “Jewishness.” In lieu of mirroring the replacement of Jewishness by Christianness, Luke’s narrative relates the tale of Christ-believing diaspora Jews who are steeped in imperial life and culture. The pseudo-dichotomy that is repeatedly reaffirmed by scholars thus should be jettisoned forthwith, because it is blind to the intricacies of social becoming and identity formation. Aided by studies in social identity and collective memory, Acts may be seen to reflect the fervent struggle of Christ-believing diaspora Jews who upheld the messiahship of Jesus, the non-Judaizing of pious Gentiles, and subservience to imperial authorities as signature traits of diaspora Jewishness: the dual commitment to Jewish ancestral customs and active participation in the Greco-Roman society. So Acts is definitely about Jewishness without precluding Romanness. The key to this clarification is the type of Jewishness Luke espouses—diaspora Jewishness. Approaches to Acts that reinforce a spurious dichotomy (i.e., Judean or Greco-Roman) are methodologically flawed, because they ignore the subtle rhetoric of Luke: overwhelmingly situating references to “the Jews” in coastal cities around the Aegean Sea, mostly Greece and Asia Minor. In line with the principles of literary cartography, Luke’s siting of “the Jews” in these cities has nuanced its denotation: diaspora Jews. Previous scholarship has ignored this subtlety and has created a hermeneutical quandary: Is Luke’s sociocultural milieu Judean or Greco-Roman? The story underlying Luke’s astute application of the familiar lexeme, “the Jews,” leaves no room for speculation or contradiction. The rhetoric is lucid: Jews residing in Asia Minor and Greece. These Jews are the historical referents of Acts. Hence, Luke’s second story evinces ideological tensions characteristic of social becoming and identity formation. Using the sociological principles espoused by Mark Currie, hostility is fiercer when competitors have more in common. The competing groups described in Acts are not dissimilar (Jews and Christians) but are rivals (non-Christ-believing diaspora Jews and Christ-believing diaspora Jews). Each earnestly strives to defend its unique understanding of diaspora Jewishness. Nor is Christianness indicative of a new “religion” but rather is a legitimate expression of diaspora Jewishness.