Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jason Sturdevant: The Apocryphal Acts as Early Christian Fiction?

When applied to works like the 2nd-3rd century Acts of the Apostles, the adjective “apocryphal” suggests fabrication or falsehood. This conception of these works receives further support from the longstanding assumption of these works as Christian adaptations of the Greek novel, examples of which (e.g., Callirhoe) fit very much into modern notions of fiction. However, descriptions of the Acts as novelistic and “apocryphal” predispose modern readers to presume that these works are merely fictions.
From the historian’s perspective, such a presumption is generally accurate. By most accounts, the Acts contain legends of several apostles. Yet when considering how ancient readers might have read and understood these texts, the modern dichotomy of “fact v. fiction” does not hold up so well. Ancient readers did not necessarily read the Acts naively or credulously, but research on the relationship between fiction and truth in antiquity suggests a much more complex perspective than has been previously assumed.
This paper will explore the generic traits of the 2nd-3rd century Acts—especially on the Acts of Andrew—to question whether the categories of “fiction” and “apocryphal” are appropriate for these works. Moreover, it will highlight some of the research done on the relationship between fiction and truth in antiquity, and apply the results of that research to the Acts and their reception. If time allows, I will offer some observations on the genre of the Acts and the ways generic classification alters researchers’ conceptions of how the Acts were first read and understood.

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