Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sources behind the travel narrative of Acts

As I continue to think about Acts, I want to reflect a little on the travel narrative in which Paul travels from Casaerea to Rome. Luke also ends with a long travel narrative (to Jerusalem), so Luke seems to like arranging his narratives this way.

I might also mention that the so called "Western text" of Acts (primarily manuscript D) differs significantly from the "Alexandrian" text (as usual for Acts) in this section.

In this post I want to reflect a little on the argument of Lamouille and Boismard, largely endorsed by Jerome Murphy O'Connor, that Luke has spliced together two different versions of the shipwreck narrative.

Murphy O'Connor summarizes the argument in this way (I am adding and modifying it at various points):

1. Acts 27:11-12 is a bit strange in the light of 27:8-10 (you'll notice that I've modified the verses slightly from how Murphy-O'Connor does).

Acts 27:8-11 says, "And barely sailing past it [Salmone] did we arrive at a certain place called Fair Havens, which is near the city of Lasia. And because enough time had passed and the time for sailing was already precarious because even the Fast [Day of Atonement] had already past, Paul advised them saying, 'Men, I see that with danger and much cost not only of cargo and ship but also of our lives the sailing is about to be.' The centurion listened more to the pilot and owner more than to what was said by Paul. "

Here we have the characteristic "we" of this section of Acts. Paul seems to be warning them not to take some open sea voyage that will cost them in lives.

But when we arrive at 27:12, we do not have the characteristic "we." Also, what is being discussed is not an open sea voyage, but a fairly mundane trip of about 60 miles along the southern coast of Crete:

27:12 says, "And since a harbor didn't exist there that was suitable to spend the winter, the majority favored going on from there, if somehow they might be able to reach Phoenix to winter there, which was a harbor of Crete facing the south and northwest."

Boismard, Lamouille, and Murphy-O'Connor all think that these two comments come from two editions of the same story: a travel journal and a source based on the same travel journal.

2. Verse 16 seems to imply that they got the boat under control at an island called Cauda, just south of western Crete. They lower something in verse 17.

But in verse 18 they are suddenly in the open sea again in a storm again.

3. The expression epekilan ten naun, found in Homer, usually means to land on an open beach, not to shipwreck or hit a reef. The idea of running aground appears several times, e.g., in 27:29 and in 27:41 (the Homeric parallel).

So they conclude we have two versions of the same story.

I'm always wary of the kinds of source analyses that tease out sources in a way that goes "verse for source A, verse for source B; verse for source A..." It just seems a little odd. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I'm much more sympathetic to the idea that someone edited a single source and didn't work out all the kinks. Or that we have a paragraph from one source and a paragraph that resumes the other.

So where are the potential fissures that might indicate source matters?

1. Much of 9-11 relates to an open sea voyage, while 27:8 at Fair Havens would flow fairly easily into 27:12 and an attempt to make Phoenix for winter. Perhaps Luke has edited a "travel source" significantly in 27:9-11?

2. Verses 9-16 make sense as an attempt to make Phoenix gone awry. They find themselves off the shores of Cauda.

3. In 27:16 we have a strange reference to getting the "boat" under control. This is not the ship, but a smaller boat that is also mentioned in 27:30 and 32. What's up with the dinghy?

4. We also note the repetition of "run the ship aground" (27:29 and 41) and the strange machinations with anchors and such. They put something down in 27:17 ("vessel"), 29 (now we have anchyra), and then they lose them in 40.

I'm not done processing their argument. But I might add that F. F. Bruce's commentary, drawing heavily on a work by one James Smith from the 1800's, makes a lot of sense out of the narrative as it stands.


James Petticrew said...

I first kissed the girl who was to become my wife sitting on the shore looking at St Paul's island on Malta, nothing to do with the sources of Acts but a very important event in the narrative of my life!

Ken Schenck said...

Wouldn't you say a trifle more significant than this issue, eh? I must confess that after going through this passage in a bit of detail I'm having trouble seeing some of Murphy O'Connor's direction.

James Petticrew said...

Hey kissing the girl who was to become my wife was very significant for me, that kiss led not just to marriage and two great kids but started a process that brought me back to faith and into leadership in the church, but that's another story

Ken Schenck said...


Bill Barnwell said...

Ken, I might have missed this somewhere else where you might have addressed it, but around when do you date the final composition of Acts? Do you date it shortly after Paul's Roman imprisonment (before the outcome of his trial and death) or do you assign the more commonly accepted later date? It's obviously an important question as it influences us on how we date the Synoptics, whether we see the Olivet Discourse as predictive or retrospective (by this I mean in relation as to when it was compiled into a finished or primitive version of the gospel documents themselves), and certainly the issue bears weight on sourcing questions. If one were to argue that Acts was not a strict chronological document per se, then perhaps material was arranged specifically to develop a literary realization of 1:8 (with the book ending in Rome after having traveled through the "ends of the earth"), even if perhaps it didn't "really" happen in the chronological order recorded in Acts.

Ken Schenck said...

Hey Bill, yes, I date Luke-acts to the the post-70 period, indeed perhaps in the early 80's even.