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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis
It's been a long time since I had this much fun reading a scholarly work. This is a refreshing and honest re-assessment of the historicity (or non-historicity) of Acts. A great contribution to understanding what really did or did not happen.
Published 6 months ago by David K. Hamilton

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
It pains me to give this only 2 stars, but I have to be honest. Given its lower profile than the Jesus Seminar and the inclusion of Joseph Tyson as one of the contributors and editors (whose "Marcion and Luke-Acts" is one of the finest bits of NT scholarship that has been produced in the last 20 years), I was expecting a much more robust examination of the...
Published 8 days ago by Andrew Dowling


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, July 5, 2014
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This review is from: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Paperback)
It pains me to give this only 2 stars, but I have to be honest. Given its lower profile than the Jesus Seminar and the inclusion of Joseph Tyson as one of the contributors and editors (whose "Marcion and Luke-Acts" is one of the finest bits of NT scholarship that has been produced in the last 20 years), I was expecting a much more robust examination of the "Acts as 2nd century product" theory, which I happen to agree with. Instead, the wide majority of the books is simply a reprint of Acts itself and then a summation of the story, with bits about historical framework and themes used thrown in, but with not nearly enough discussion of both the methods used to come to the conclusions but practically ANY discussion of opposing viewpoints and their relative merits. The voting system used to judge the likelihood of historicity is also the horrible "weighted" system used by the Jesus Seminar, which ensures that a few "black" votes take a section which most would deem historically probable into the "unlikely" category.

When speaking about 1st century works, one is talking about probabilities across a spectrum. The best scholarship, in recognition of this, will discuss the various views surrounding particular claims and then show why their particular viewpoint is the most probable. This is partly why Tyson's book succeeded so well, in my opinion, in that he carefully showed the pros and cons of various theories and then explained why he thought his made the most sense. That kind of scholarly review and deconstruction is notably absent here.

In addition, there are differences between healthy skepticism and unwarranted conclusions. While the main thesis of Acts being a 2nd century apologetic "smoothing" over of Christianity's often dysfunctional beginnings and harmonizing the Jewish and Pauline strands of the church makes a lot of sense, often the claims of individual strands being completely ahistorical come off as arguments from silence and not of sound analysis. Good historical fiction embellishes and arranges history to fit a narrative, but the mere act of ensuring the history fits the narrative suddenly doesn't make historical fiction pure fiction. The latter seems to be the regular basis of declaring almost the entirety of Acts a work of fiction. There are several problems with this. For example

-The presence of James as leader of the early Jerusalem church is rightly noted as a problem. But if the author is merely not worried about making up entire narratives, why does he ever mention James and simply make Peter the "head" of the Jerusalem church, as James by the author's definition is not an Apostle? Why does he have James mention claims that Paul tells Diaspora Jews to renounce Torah? If Luke is just inventing stories in order to further his claim of harmonization, him adding these sections makes zero sense. Luke as an ancient writer is not afraid to twist and embellish to have things fit his narrative but there are enough parts of Acts in which he's clearly dealing with history that is troubling his narrative that he downplays. But he's STILL mentioning them, meaning that the author is not completely whitewashing history. But the Acts Seminar continually writes off whole sections as completely historically unreliable merely because they are furthering the larger narrative. This is frankly ridiculous.
Ditto with the early sections about Jerusalem . . .the authors state that the Apostles likely fled Jerusalem after the Crucifiction. Ok, agreed. But then they say that because of this, there is little historical validity to the church originating in Jerusalem!!! What?? Regardless If the time-span was 40 days or over a year, it strikes me as likely that a very early Christian community was established in Jerusalem and was the base of James, John, and Peter (and thus the power center of the early Jesus Movement). Thus there is a clear historical "base" to the first part of Acts.

-The claims of sources: Again, I am persuaded that Luke had access to and used Paul's letters and Josephus. However, the Seminar acts as if we have anywhere close to a complete picture of 1st century Christian sources. We have a fraction .. there are dozens of early Gospels and other writings in which we only have fragments or that we know by vague mentions by the Patristics. So it strikes me as completely unfounded to assume that since something is not found in the sources we're aware of, Luke didn't have other now lost sources. For example, the stories of Simon Magus are multiple attested in varied sources . .it seems clear he was likely a historical figure. So where did Luke get information about him from? Or the link of the theology of Apollos and John the Baptist . .it makes zero sense for the author to invent such a connection. Or regarding Paul's arrest and execution in Rome . . only in the book's closing pages is 1 Clement ever briefly mentioned, but that shows a 1st century tradition of Paul's execution in Rome . . .this is never even mentioned in the many chapters discussing the passages about Paul and his trip to Rome. Again, I agree most of the details are likely literary invention, but the Seminar is way too quick to write off the overarching narratives because the details are likely fiction.

The highlights of the book are the Introduction and corresponding essays and the mini-essays describing the historical framework in which Luke operated in. These add value to the book and help explain the Seminar's findings. But these sections are frankly not long enough or go into enough detail. Since Acts can't be color coded like the Gospels were in the "5 Gospels" it would've made more sense to have chapters based on Act's "sections" but not have the reprinting of all of Acts. It's not necessary, and clearly anyone getting this book has access to a Bible. If one is looking for a book providing sound evidence for Acts being a 2nd century apologetic harmonizing church history and refuting Marcion, Tyson's "Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle" is just a better foray into the topic and the evidence used is much more solid. Again, was simply highly disappointed with the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis, December 22, 2013
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It's been a long time since I had this much fun reading a scholarly work. This is a refreshing and honest re-assessment of the historicity (or non-historicity) of Acts. A great contribution to understanding what really did or did not happen.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical treatment, December 6, 2013
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Michael_in_SC (Southern California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Paperback)
An excellent book demonstrating that Acts is literature intended to support the emerging proto-orthodox narrative, and certainly not straight history. The way the author of Acts mixes up the order of Judas and Theudas in 5:36-37 is a chuckle, perhaps deriving a mis-reading of Josephus, lending support to the editors' contention that Acts is from the 2nd Century. The book is filled with other intriguing insights. My main criticism is on the production: a book of this importance ought to be offered in hardcover, not just paperback. The paper is of high quality though.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended Modern Scholarship on Acts, November 26, 2013
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This review is from: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Paperback)
Acts and Christian Beginnings is recommended highly for anyone interested in Christian origins. The Acts Seminar met for over 10 years. Its meetings were held twice yearly at the Westar Institute with 25-35 scholars attending and also 100-250 general public attendees.
It found that Acts is an apologetic work written c. 110-120. Little historical value was found in Acts 1-7 and the Seminar believes Christianity did not begin in Jerusalem. Acts can no longer be a source for the life of Paul. Indeed the letters of Paul are a source for Acts. Finally Acts can no longer be considered historical unless there is other evidence corroborating it.
Acts and Christian Beginnings considers each passage of Acts. First it gives comments on how an early 2nd century reader would view it and then there is an "In Search of History" section analyzing the section's historical reliability. This is followed by "The Votes of the Fellows" in which numerous questions are voted on by the scholars using the color system of Red/Probable, Pink/Possible, Grey/Doubtful and Black/Improbable. In keeping with Westar's goal, the material is presented in a way that the general public can read and appreciate it.
This is a book where the reader may find him/herself stopping after sections to consider what the scholars have concluded and why in order to compare with what the reader believes and why. It is a challenge to the more common 1st century dating of Acts and makes its case well for a 2nd century dating and what that implies. Any reader interested in modern scholarship on Acts will want to read this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bringing Acts scholarship in America into the 21st Century, July 6, 2014
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Smilin' Jack "N/A" (Carrizozo, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Paperback)
"Acts of the Apostles" passed over into mythology in European scholarship 50-100 years ago, so it's good to see mainstream American Biblical scholarship finally catching up. By "mainstream," I mean people who teach in seminary schools in the Bible Belt, as well as secular universities, in places like Oklahoma, Indiana, and Texas -- nobody from Harvard or Princeton is represented here. What results is a mostly clear-headed, apologetic-free review of the fictional literary nature and obviously second-century revisionist/constructionist context of Acts. There is virtually no "history" in Acts at all, it being a very late propaganda tool of the emerging Catholic ("Universal") Church to rewrite history and pretend that they owned the title deeds to the Jesus religion.

Commentaries on Acts can easily run to 700 densely-footnoted pages, but the Acts Seminar seems to have deliberately avoided that here. The structure is very basic. There is no Koine Greek, and there are almost no footnotes. What you get is a commentary divided by sections ("The Story of the Antioch Church," etc.) followed by a page or two of brief comments. This is then followed by another short piece called "In Search of History," in which historical context for the passage is discussed. This is then followed by "Votes of the Follows" of the Acts Seminar. Invariably, almost everything in the section is voted as being "Gray (Doubtful)" or "Black (Improbable)." I don't have an objection to this rating system -- no system is perfect, and this one quickly conveys to the reader what the scholars thought about the section examined. This is followed by 23 "cameo essays" illuminating some aspect of the text. "Shipwrecks in Luke's Literary World," "We Passages in Acts," "Women in Acts," "Hellenists and Hebrews," and so on, are some of the topics discussed.

Contrary to other reviews, the scholarship represented here is quite good, with respected names like Tyson, Smith, MacDonald, Walker, and Pervo alongside some newer scholars with fresh ideas and perspectives. Personally, I would have actually preferred a bit more detail and footnotes, but I completely understand the editors' decision to make the report as accessible to the general reader as possible. Recommended for anyone attempting to understand the New Testament or early Christianity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book!, June 5, 2014
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Although not everyone will agree with the authors' findings, the book presents one perspective in a readable and lucid fashion. The authors date the book of Acts in the 110-120 A.D. timeframe, 30 years or so later than the prevailing consensus. Along with the later dating, they believe that rather than being an independent source for the period of the early church and Paul's ministry, Acts was largely dependent upon Paul, i.e. had in hand an early collection of his letters and drew from them to reconstruct an outline of his ministry. According to their view, Acts is not reliable when it diverges from Paul, only when it reflects Paul. Since many of the traditionally held elements of Paul's bio are derived only from Acts (he was born in Tarsus, he was present at the stoning of Stephen, he studied under Gamaliel, etc.), the authors are skeptical of the historicity of these events. Similarly, given the late dating, the authors contend that the author of Acts was too far removed (three generations) from early church history to be a reliable source for it. From their viewpoint, the picture presented in Acts that the early church began in Jerusalem and spread out from there is formulaic (i.e. reflects their theological viewpoint) rather than historical. This opens up the prospect of an early church comprised of different and multi-form Jesus communities in diverse locations. The book is fascinating for its alternative presentation of both the early church and of Paul.

Although the book is not a commentary as such on the book of Acts, it does structure its finding in terms of the chapter by chapter progress of the book of Acts. Therefore, it offers some of the benefits of a commentary in terms of background materials, historical assessment, and interpretation of key events.

Evangelicals will not care for the book because it discounts the historical value of the Biblical witness in the books of Acts. And they will find ground upon which to stand, as the arguments of the authors depend entirely on the dating. Though the authors present a good case for the later dating, their case is far from conclusive, and is, at least to some extent circular, i.e. the later dating makes it possible for Acts to be written after and to reflect the use of Paul's letter, which then supports the later dating. I will be interested to seek out and read another book that makes a strong case for the earlier dating.

I believe it's important for both liberals and conservatives to avoid bunkering within their own perspectives and instead to read seminal works from different perspectives. This is one of those.
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7 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars abysmal scholarship, October 22, 2013
This review is from: Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Paperback)
This work is appalling. The scholarship is abysmal, and it is clear that the twelve contributors involved were so pleased with the demolition job that they'd done on the Book of Acts, that they didn't even think it was worth the effort to check their facts before going to press. Dennis Smith, for example, one of the two editors and a contributor himself to some of the essays, informs us that Gallio was appointed Proconsul by the emperor Tiberius at some time between AD 49 and 54. Somebody should have told Smith that Tiberius died in AD 37 and was thus ill-placed to appoint anybody. It was Claudius who appointed Gallio as stated on the very inscription which Smith would have us believe was one of his authorities. He makes the error twice on the same page - sloppy. Further into the book, Pervo tells us that "In the ancient world means and motives for preserving speeches did not exist." This shows a level of ignorance in his subject that is inexcusable. Shorthand exists in every language and script going way back to Babylon and its predecessors. It was invented for the express purpose of recording speech accurately, and if Pervo didn't know that much, then he shouldn't be commenting on anything, let alone the New Testament. Moreland informs us that Luke blamed the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple on the Jews, overlooking the fact that no such reference exists in Luke's Acts. The New Testament in its entirety knows nothing of that destruction, so the statement is clearly a product of Moreland's imagination. Space alone forbids a longer treatment of the astonishingly low level of objectivity displayed by all the contributors, and I can only say that if Luke had been as careless and sloppy in his writing as the Westar Institute team have been in theirs, then there may have been some point to this exercise. A little research would have shown them that Luke is meticulously accurate in all his facts, which is a lot more than can be said for this sad effort. It is abysmal and shames the very name of scholarship.
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Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report
Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report by Joseph B. Tyson (Paperback - November 5, 2013)
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