Archive for December, 2010


Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (3)

December 28, 2010

Peter’s address: Acts 4:4

Robert Grant claimed that the population of Jerusalem was too small for 5,000 converts to Christianity.[1] Grant’s estimate of the population of Jerusalem relied on an influential study by Jeremias in 1943, [2] [3] but did not mention that Jeremias calculated a far higher population figure for festival seasons such as passover, at which he estimated Jerusalem would contain up to 125,000 pilgrims.[4]

Furthermore the lower estimate of Jeremias is significantly lower than the lowest of the moderate to high estimates made by Wilkinson in 1974 (70,398 under Herod the Great),[5] Broshi in 1976 (60,000),[6] Maier in 1976 (50,000, with three times that many during festival seasons),[7] and Levine in 2002 (60,000-70,000).[8]

Accordingly, Cousland notes that ‘recent estimates of the population of Jerusalem suggest something in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand’.[9] Estimates for the number of Christians in the Roman empire by the end of the first century range widely from 7,500 to more than 50,000. [10] [11] [12]

Article here.

[1] Grant ‘A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 145 (1963).

[2] Jeremias, ‘Die Einwohnerzhal Jerusalems z. Zt. Jesu’, ZDPV, 63, pp. 24-31 (1943).

[3] ‘Jeremias, for instance has estimated that there was a population of 25,000 in first century Jerusalem,’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[4] ‘Thus one would arrive at 125,000 festival pilgrims.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 261 (1995).

[5] Wilkinson, ‘Ancient Jerusalem, Its Water Supply and Population’, PEFQS 106, pp. 33-51 (1974).

[6] ‘This also gives a figure of around 60,000 at the time of the first Christians.’, Reinhardt, ‘The Population Size of Jerusalem and the Numerical Growth of the Jerusalem Church’, in Bauckham (ed.), ‘The Book of Acts in its Palestine Setting’, p. 247 (1995).

[7] Maier, ‘First Christians: Pentecost and the Spread of Christianity’, p. 22 (1976).

[8]‘According to Levine, because the new area encompassed by the Third Wall was not densely populated, assuming that it contained half the population of the rest of the city, there were between 60,000 and 70,000 people living in Jerusalem.’, Rocca, ‘Herod’s Judaea: A Mediterranean State in the Classical World’, p. 333 (2008).

[9] Cousland, ‘The Crowds in the Gospel of Matthew’, p. 60 (2002).

[10] Stark, ‘The Rise of Christianity’, pp. 6-7 (1996); this influential study dominates the literature, but has been questioned as it involves projecting backwards from fourth century estimates.

[11] Wilken, ‘The Christians as the Romans Saw Them’, p. 31 (1984).

[12] ‘Estimates for the number of Christians by 100 C.E. range from as low as 7,500 to upwards of 50,000 out of the approximately sixty million inhabitants of the Roman Empire.’, Novak, ‘Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts’, pp. 12-13 (2001).


Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts (2)

December 10, 2010

Some verses in Acts use the second person plural (‘we’), indicating that the writer is participating in the events he is describing. The traditional interpretation (that the writer was an eyewitness, the traditional Luke),[1] was challenged in the twentieth century.[2]

Although there currently exists no scholarly consensus on the “we” passages,[3] three interpretations in particular have become dominant: a) the writer was redacting existing written material or oral sources, whether by genuine eyewitnesses or not, b) use of the second person plural is a deliberate stylistic device which was common to the genre of the work, but which was not intended to indicate a historical eyewitness, c) the writer was a genuine historical eyewitness.[4]

Article here.

[1] ‘Irenaeus’s understanding of the “we” passages was for many centuries the accepted interpretation of them. Indeed, there was no serious challenge to the author-as-eyewitness solution until the beginning of the modern period a millennium and a half later.’, Campbell, ‘The “we” passages in the Acts of the Apostles: the narrator as narrative’, p.3 (2007).

[2] ‘By the second decade of the twentieth century, most Acts scholars were in agreement that the author had fashioned the narrative out of a variety of written sources. A number of them, however, did not accept the source-as-eyewitness solution to the “we” question.’, ibid., p. 6.

[3] ‘Present scholarship still struggles to make sense of the so-called “we-passages” in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16.’, Rothschild, ‘Luke-Acts and the rhetoric of history’, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen testament 2. Reihe 175, p. 264 (2004).

[4] ‘Three interpretations dominate: 1) the author offers a perspective from his own life experience; 2) the author is in possession of an itinerarium source; and 3) first person plural pronouns represent stylistic insertions.’, ibid., p. 265.


Article: The Historicity of the book of Acts

December 4, 2010

How historically accurate is the book of Acts? Current scholarly attitudes range widely; [1] German theologian Adolf von Harnack’s extreme criticism has been discredited, [2] but Ramsay’s views [3] are considered exaggerated, [4] and Sherwin-White’s praise [5]  is qualified. [6]

Article here.

[1] ‘British scholarship has been relatively positive about Acts’ historicity, from Lightfoot and Ramsay to W.L. Knox and Bruce. German scholarship has, for the most part, evaluated negatively the historical worth of Acts, from Baur and his school to Dibelius, Conzelmann, and Haenchen. North American scholars show a range of opinion.’, Setzer, ‘Jewish Responses to Early Christians: history and polemics, 30-150 C.E.’, p. 94 (1994).

[2] ’It is difficult to acquit Harnack here of an exaggerated hypercriticism. He offers a lengthy list of inaccuracies (Acts pp. 203-31), but most of the entries are bizarrely trivial:’, Hemer & Gempf, ‘The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History’, p. 7 (1990).

[3] ‘Over a hundred years ago, the British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay set out to disprove the historicity of Acts, but, after extensive work, particularly in Turkey, became convinced of the book’s reliability and converted to Christianity.’, Blomberg, ‘From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation’, p. 15 (2006).

[4] ‘Ramsay no doubt put the point much more strongly than many of his contemporaries would have been prepared to accept, and he was capable of making assertions about Luke’s historical accuracy which went beyond what could be shown by the available evidence.’, Marshall, ‘The Acts of the Apostles: an introduction and commentary’, p. 34 (1980).

[5] ‘For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.’, Sherwin-White, ‘Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament’, p. 189 (1963).

[6] ‘he is quite willing to believe Luke made mistakes.’, Marshall, ‘The Acts of the Apostles: an introduction and commentary’, p. 36 (1980).