Jens Schröter on Luke as an Ancient Historian and the Need for Differentiation in Assessing the Historical Value of Acts

Whereas my posts from January 13February 17, and March 17 dealt with Jens Schröter’s theoretical reflections on historiography, this post, like my posts from May 19 and August 25, will  focus more specifically on Jens Schröter’s perspectives on the historical value of Acts in From Jesus to the New Testament, which will presumably inform his forthcoming HNT commentary on Acts. Needless to say, I would be delighted if these posts, to which one more will be added, would initiate/provoke a more substantive response to Schröter’s treatment of this topic by one (or several) of the many Acts specialists in the blogging community!

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

English Translation and German Version

From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 224: “If we evaluate these findings, then it can be said that the presentation of Luke moves within the framework of what was expected from an ancient historian. He possesses knowledge about the areas concerning which he reports; sometimes chronological inaccuracies slip in; and entirely in the sense of Lucian he has shaped his presentation and in this way drawn a picture of the development of Christianity in the first decades. … It has been shown further that one cannot adjudicate the historical value of Acts in general but only in detail. Luke possesses variously detailed information and local knowledge about different stages of the narrated history, which possibly provides a clue to his own background, perhaps even to his participation in the events.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament, p. 244: Werten wir diesen Befund aus, so lässt sich formulieren, dass sich die Darstellung des Lukas im Rahmen des von einem antiken Historiker zu Erwartenden bewegt. Er besitzt Kenntnis über die Gegenden, von denen er berichtet, mitunter unterlaufen ihm chronologische Ungenauigkeiten, ganz im Sinne Lukians hat er seine Darstellung geformt und auf diese Weise ein Bild der Erwicklung des Christentums in den ersten Jahrzehnten gezeichnet.  … Es zeigt sich weiter, dass über den Geschichtswert der Apg nicht pauschal, sondern nur im Detail befunden werden kann. Lukas hat über die verschiedenen Etappen der erzählten Geschichte unterschiedlich detaillierte Informationen und Lokalkenntnisse, was möglicherweise einen Hinweis auf seine eigene Herkunft, vielleicht sogar auf seine Beteiligung an den Ereignissen, gibt.

Selective grammatical analysis

wertenaus (auswerten) = evaluate. I usually translate lässt sich + infinitive (here: formulieren) as “can be x-ed (here: formulated/stated/said). Since it is a subordinate clause introduced by dass, the verb bewegt moves to the end of the sentence. von einim antiken Historiker qualifies zu Erwartenden, which goes with des: “of the thing that is to be expected” / “of what was expected from”. mitunter = sometimes, occasionally, or every once in a while. Rather than using “slip in” unterlaufen ihm could also be translated as “slip by him” (unlike Wolter, I believe that Schröter explains the Quirinus census as an example of such a slip). I have translated im Sinne as “in the sense of”, but it might be preferable to write “in the vein of” or “along the lines of” (for the related phrase in diesem Sinne I think “in this vein”, adopted from Kathleen Ess, is a great solution). Es zeigt sich could be translated with “it becomes clear” or “it is shown”, but here I think a past tense is needed to capture the intended sense. It might be preferable to translate pauschal in a more precise manner as “across the board” or “in a sweeping manner”, but it seems to me that “in general” might convey the intended sense more clearly. befunden werden (befunden) seems to have the force of “decide”, “adjudge”, or “adjudicate”. Here, I have changed the passive verb to an active formulation for the sake of readability.

Substantive analysis

Let me develop my comments on the importance of this quotation by Jens Schröter by setting it in relation to a statement by Richard Bauckham. In his important book The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (p. 27), Richard Bauckham writes: “I do not think that everything in John’s Gospel can be verified historically in these ways. As with any other source, what needs to be assessed is its general reliability. (This is the best reason why commentators are either consistently skeptical of historicity in John or consistently inclined to accept it.) If the Gospel is judged trustworthy so far as we can test it, then we should probably trust it for what we cannot verify. That is ordinary historical method.” Without wishing to affirm or reject this quotation in its entirety, today’s key quotation by Jens Schröter leads me to believe that Bauckham’s fundamental statement on “ordinary historical method” probably needs to be further nuanced, at least in relation to the question of the historicity of Acts. In particular, I think it needs to be stressed that our “testing” of the apparent relation between events and narrative in a given work might very well reveal that the author possesses “variously detailed information and local knowledge about different stages of the narrated history”, so that our conclusions about the “general reliability” of a given work may need to include the observation that the author appears to be more or less “reliable” in relation to various aspects of the narrative, i.e. in terms of precision, accuracy, or both. My point here is NOT that Richard Bauckham himself would necessarily disagree with this line of thought, but simply that it needs to be made explicit if his statement about ordinary historical method is not to be appropriated in unhelpful ways.



One thought on “Jens Schröter on Luke as an Ancient Historian and the Need for Differentiation in Assessing the Historical Value of Acts

  1. Pingback: Biblical Studies Blog Carnival — July 2014 Edition!! | Linguae Antiquitatum

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