Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Five

Sherwin-White enters the next lecture about Paul’s various trips to cities, as recorded in Acts. The first anachronism Sherwin-White addresses is the question of how Paul could be beaten by authorities (Acts 16:22 & 2 Cor. 11:25) when Paul indicates it is unlawful to beat him as a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:25).

Sherwin-White goes through a number of examples regarding various communities, their authorities and their jurisdiction to impose law. He notes it is possible authorities could exceed their powers and concludes, “the narrative agrees with the evidence of the earlier period that a Roman Citizen of any social class was protected against a casual beating (without trial), whereas the humiliores of the late empire had lost this protection.” Pg. 76 I had great difficulty following Sherwin-White’s analysis, nor how he came to this particular conclusion. I finally gave up.

Sherwin-White notes the charge in Philippi was in two forms: 1) causing a riot and 2) introduction of alien religion. However, Sherwin-White correctly indicate the official position of Rome was to prohibit certain religious practices, typically if such practices did not cause a disturbance, they were allowed to continue. With occasional crack-downs. This charge, Sherwin-White says, “…though it is unusual, it is not entirely unparalleled in Julio-Claudian usage.” (pg 82)

Sherwin-White states the procedure followed in Ephesus was that reminiscent of the first and Second Century. Acts does not show detailed knowledge of any other city, as compared to Ephesus. When discussing the other cities, Acts uses far less specifics, and general titles, rather than the correct term for Clerk of the City, etc. Although Acts is aware of the correct and fairly unusual title of Thessalonica’s city magistrates.

I found Sherwin-White quite dry at this point, in referring to these events. It did seem he generally wanted to favor Acts, rather than be critical. Where Acts was accurate, it was highlighted. Where Acts was not, it was excused.

The next Lecture dealt with Paul appearing before the proconsul Gallio. (Acts 18:12-17) Where the proconsul actually turns on the accusers and drives them out. Sherwin-White says, “It is not certain that the charge made against Paul at Corinth was intended to refer primarily to Hebraic Law, though Gallio found it convenient to take it that way….It is the way of Acts to summarize and at times to garble the charges variously brought against Paul.” Pg. 101

Sherwin-White responds to many claims by critics, including the lack of specific charges, and that we do not know a proconsul Gallio of Achaia. (It is unlikely such a minor official would be recorded within the histories we have.)

And finally, within this lecture, Sherwin-White addresses who Paul would see in his appeal to Rome. It is extremely unlikely he would have been taken to Nero himself, as Nero avoided all jurisdictional functions. He also addresses criticism regarding the two-year delay, concluding it was possible for such a delay to occur.

Curiously, Sherwin-White notes Seneca, one of Nero’s principal advisors, attempted to instill clemency in Nero, and states, “Perhaps Paul benefited from the clemency of Nero, and secured merely a casual release. But there is no necessity to construe Acts to mean that he was released at all.” (pg 119)

Sherwin-White gives us no information as to who Paul would have seen in Rome, or what would have happened to him.

4 comments:

  1. “Sherwin-White enters the next lecture about Paul’s various trips to cities, as recorded in Acts. The first anachronism Sherwin-White addresses is the question of how Paul could be beaten by authorities (Acts 16:22 & 2 Cor. 11:25) when Paul indicates it is unlawful to beat him as a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:25).”

    DaGoodS, correct me if I am reading this wrong, but dosen’t this:

    “The first anachronism Sherwin-White addresses is the question of how Paul could be beaten by authorities (Acts 16:22 & 2 Cor. 11:25) when Paul indicates it is unlawful to beat him as a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:25).”

    contradict this:

    “the narrative agrees with the evidence of the earlier period that a Roman Citizen of any social class was protected against a casual beating (without trial), whereas the humiliores of the late empire had lost this protection.”

    What I mean is this: if Roman citizens had lost protection from flogging only later in the Empire’s history, why was Paul (and Silas) flogged in Acts 16, which is before he pulled the Citizen Card in Acts 22? Is this why you refer to this as an ‘anachronism’, or are you thinking of something else?

    DaGoodS, do you think Paul was really a Roman Citizen? The whole thing smells very fishy to me. Why would Paul spend all of chapter 22 giving his defense before the Tribune, only to be hauled to the barracks and wait for the whipping centurion to be called on standby, before Paul finally mentions that he is a Roman Citizen? I mean, why wait until the very last second? He could have mentioned his Roman Citizenship early in his defense, for instance when Paul gave his resume in 22:3. If an American citizen is mistakenly caught by the border patrol, the first thing he does is pull out his passport, not after he has already been hauled into court, given his defense and is handed over to the jailer. “Uh… by the way, I’m an American Citizen!”.

    Also, what reason does the centurion have for taking Paul’s word that he is a Roman citizen? Does Sherwin-White have anything to say about how such claims were verified in the ancient world? I think falsely claiming Roman Citizenship was punishable by death, so making those claims were always taken seriously. Still, verse 26 makes the centurion sound like a big, stupid blockhead. To me, the end of Acts 22 reads something like this:

    Centurion: Reeling back to deliver a blow with his whip
    Paul (thinking quickly): “Hey, I’m a Roman Citizen! I don’t think you can whip me”
    Centurion: Stops. Scratches head. Walks back to the tribune. “What are you about to do? This man is a Roman Citizen”
    Tribune: “WHAT?” Approaches Paul, still tied up. “Is this true? Are you a Roman Citizen? Earning citizenship is very costly, you know.”
    Paul: “I was born a Roman Citizen.”
    Tribune: Fearfully untying Paul. “Our pardon!”

    I mean, the whole thing sounds ridiculous to me. This mob who in one instant was waving garments and dust in the air, demanding him to be scourged yelling, “Away with such a fellow! For he should not live!” (v22) to suddenly being fearful of him upon learning of his citizenship (on nothing more than Paul’s word!) (v29)

    What is your opinion, DaGoodS? I suspect this is all fiction. It reads like fiction. What do you think? Does Sherwin-White have anything to say about all this?

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  2. urrghghg sorry again for typos. Still trying to get used to this new touchscreen

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  3. HeIsSailing,

    I try to correctly phrase other person’s arguments. Whether I agree with them or not, I grant charity (as best I can) for what they are attempting to convey.

    I read, re-read and re-re-read what Sherwin-White was trying to say about the accounts of Paul’s beatings as compared to the claim they could not beat a Roman citizen. And for the life of me, I could not figure it out. Exactly as I recounted, and as you pointed out, he argued they could NOT be beaten in this period, yet notes they were.

    Beats the stuffing out of me.

    As to Paul’s failing to claim Roman citizenship in Acts. 22:3, actually Sherwin-White does mention that people of the time would generally give a list of citizenships, often chronological. So Paul would be “Paulos, citizen of Taurus, citizen of Rome.” And it is possible his being a Roman Citizen would not be of impact on the Hebrew Audience of 22:3, but would definitely be an impact on the Roman authority. (Although one immediately wonders why being a “citizen of Taurus” would be important information to a Hebrew audience, but not “citizen of Rome.”)

    In short, I have long questioned the historicity of Acts. Luke demonstrates his willingness to modify events to conform to desire locales. I need only mention (again) how Mark, Matthew and John all leave the appearance and disciples in Galilee, whereas Luke modifies what was said at the tomb to leave them in (more appropriately to Luke) Jerusalem.

    Paul never claims to be a Roman citizen. If Luke, writing Acts, wants Paul to travel to Rome, simple enough to claim he was a Roman Citizen, and entitled to an appeal, thus facilitating the Roman trip. If these events happened in the early to mid 60’s CE, and Luke was writing around 100 CE (if nothing else, Sherwin-White has done more to confirm that dating to me), post-Jewish war, who would know—let alone dispute—Paul’s Roman citizenship.

    The more interesting question is why would Luke do this? Paul had a desire and intention to travel to Rome, on his way to Spain. Rom. 15:24-28. Didn’t Paul have a missionary trip to Rome? Paul apparently was under guard in Rome. (Philippians 1:13) Or was this another way for Luke to blame the Jews for Paul’s imprisonment occurring in Rome?

    I think there is a core of truth here. Paul. Traveler. Christian Missionary. Trouble in Rome. But as to the details, there is no obligation on the authors to be factual, so why should we expect it? Sherwin-White tends to assume the facts are correct and looks for “it is possible” within the wide varieties of Roman rule.

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  4. Dear Mr.

    To promote skepticism/critical thinking I wrote some questions for the Christian believer. Are you able to put the link to these questions at your blog.

    Thank you very much,

    Piet - Rotterdam - Netherlands.

    The original questions

    http://www.freethinker.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=8382
    The translation
    http://www.freethinker.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=10033

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