Friday, 8 July 2016

Paul and Sergius Paulus

I argued in yesterday's post that, within the context of the primary narrative in Acts, Luke without exception presents datable events in order, and that the instances in which we can show that his narrative is out of temporal order we can do so precisely because he gives us "signposts" to that effect. There is one possible exception to the first of these arguments, namely Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus (cf. Acts 13:7), and in the interest of completeness I should discuss that matter.

I didn't consider that event in my discussion of independently datable events yesterday, because it is actually unclear whether Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus is independently datable, and whether if it is that it would be out of order in Acts. It depends entirely upon what one does with an inscription from Chytri, an ancient Cypriot city. The text is fragmentary and unclear, and its date is debatable, but has been argued by many scholars to refer to Sergius Paulus (or, more fully, Quintus Sergius Paulus). It might, or it might not. It might also refer to the emperor Tiberius, or possibly Gaius, or possibly Claudius. Or it might not. It might indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor under this emperor. Or it might not. Campbell argues that it probably does refer to Sergius Paulus, and probably Tiberius but also possibly Gaius, certainly not Claudius, and that it does indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor in Cyprus under the emperor in question. Given that Cypriot governors were typically appointed for only a year, then if he is correct then we are dealing with a potential terminus ante quem for Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus to c. 41 (the end of Gaius' reign). Given that Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus is narrated after the events of Agrippa's reign in chapter 12, which end with the narration of his death in 44, then if Campbell is correct Luke would demonstrably be presenting these events outside of temporal order. If Campbell is incorrect then there would no such demonstrable disorder.

If the reference is to someone other than Sergius Paulus, if the emperor in question is Claudius (thus allowing a terminus ante quem as late as 54), if the inscription does not indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor under the emperor in question: if any of these statements is true then the inscription in fact adds nothing new to the discussion of Pauline chronology. And given the state of the data, I'm not entirely convinced that any of these statements is less probable than the position adopted by Campbell. In fact, given the state of the inscriptional data, and given Luke's otherwise-verifiable accuracy in temporal sequence, the very fact that he seems to want to place Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus sometime during the reign of Claudius might actually provide ancillary evidence that "Claudius" is indeed the best reading on the Chytri inscription.

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