What do I think of Pervo’s take on Acts? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Richard Carrier has said that if you want to know Acts isn’t reliable, read Pervo. I found a work of his on the genre of Acts, though this is not the one I think Carrier is referring to. Still it is worth sharing my thoughts on this one.
Pervo’s thesis in this work is that Luke is writing a kind of historical fiction. At least, that’s the impression when one does not see Pervo ranting about how obviously unhistorical the work is, something that plays a huge distraction from the content that is already in there. Pervo wants to jump at any chance he can get to show why he doesn’t think Luke is historical. (To be fair, I think this book was written before Colin Hemer’s massive work.)
This is not to say that the work is without any merit. For instance, the chapter on humor and irony in Acts I find to be quite pleasing. It is a mistake we’ve made with the text of Scripture that we often do not look to find any humor in it. In fact, this is a topic I’m interested in doing more research on someday.
If the rest of the book had been like that, I would not have had as many concerns, but alas, it isn’t. The whole idea of the thesis comes as that the book is so incredibly inaccurate that it could not possibly be considered to be historical in genre, therefore, it must be some sort of fiction.
Unfortunately, Pervo isn’t that accurate I find with the data that he presents. One such example is found where he writes about how ancient writers liked intrigue and conspiracy with the following:
“Evil Chenephres, jealous because of Moses’s civilizing innovations, tries to do away with him by ordering that he invade Ethiopia with an army of untrained peasants. After Moses is nonetheless victorious, Pharaoh strips him of this command and alienates his Egyptian lieutenants. Assassins are secretly sworn. They back out. Pharaoh does not. Having gained the allegiance of one Chanethothes, he dispatches Moses on a diplomatic mission, planning to ambush him on the road. An insider reveals the plot. In flight (on advice from Aaron), to Arabia, Moses meets and kills Chanethothes in single combat. The resemblance to Acts requires no comment.” (Pages 33-34)
The resemblance to Acts?
It’s seeing claims like this that get me to think that I have to take everything that is said in here with a huge grain of salt.
Pervo’s thesis has not found wide acceptance, and for good reason. Most do realize that Luke is intending to give a historical account. Even if there were errors in it, that is certainly the intention. One can say that there are statements in Luke that match novels of the time, but that could be said of most any work in ancient history. A writer would write in a way that would catch his audience’s attention. Luke was a skilled and talented writer, in fact, so skilled that those who are learning Greek are told to not start trying with Luke. Luke is a highly difficult writer in Greek to understand since he knows it so well.
The reader is encouraged to instead go for ideas that have far more scholarly backing. A good reply to Pervo can be found in The Jesus Legend by Boyd and Eddy.