L’analyse du discours au service de la critique textuelle
1 de gener de 2018

A Prophetic Reversal of Israel’s History

1. Exodus in Acts: Preliminary remarks

This study will illustrate the use made of the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt in the book of Acts. For clarity, ‘Exodus’ will be used to refer to the book of that name, and lower case ‘exodus’ will be used to speak of the event recorded in Exodus 12 and commemorated annually at Passover as a reminder of God’s action to liberate his people from slavery. While Exodus 12 remains the foundation text, or paradigm, the biblical account is not confined to that record, for it was developed in later writings of the Jewish Scriptures,1 notably the prophets, as well as in oral tradition. In the analysis of passages in the book of Acts presented here, it will be seen that the narrator interprets what had been happening among the early followers of Jesus by drawing on a range of accounts of the exodus and setting it in the context of this paradigmatic event in Israel’s history. He does so in such a way as dramatically to transform its parameters.

1 The term ‘Jewish Scriptures’ is preferred to ‘Old Testament’ in speaking of the book of Acts since, whether dated at the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century, it was written at a time when the concept of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ testaments had not been formulated. Furthermore, it will be contended here that the writer was composing his narrative within a Jewish context, in which the Scriptures he was drawing on, in whatever language, were the sacred texts of the Jews first and foremost.

2 Commentators are generally reluctant to accept that Luke drew purposeful parallels with the exodus (see, e.g., Barrett 1994, 577-578.

3 Keener 2013, in commenting on Acts 12.3, is dismissive of a possible evocation of the exodus, on the grounds that the plan to execute Peter after the Passover ‘ruins an exact correspondence’.

4 See, e.g., Parry 1995, 159-61; cf. Witherington 1998, 382 who believes that the parallels with the death of Jesus rather than the exodus would have been more accessible and more obvious to Theophilus.

References to the exodus are not commonly identified in Acts2 despite its traditional connection with Luke’s Gospel, where exodus allusions are indeed recognized. There is only one explicit mention of Passover in Acts (Acts 12:4), associated with the miraculous deliverance of Peter from the threat of execution by Herod. While some specialist studies identify the presence of key exodus motifs in this account of Peter’s escape from prison (e.g., Strobel 1957; Dupont 1984, 336-41; Garrett 1990; Christopher, 2018, 178),3 it is usual to find that Jesus’ passion is nevertheless seen as the foundational event that is being re-enacted.4 In other words, Christian rather than Jewish history is seen as the touchstone for understanding Peter’s rescue. Occasionally, features of the exodus are noted, too, in Paul’s rescue from the shipwreck in Acts

27 (see Christopher, 2018), but their primary function is once more understood as being to create a parallel with the suffering of Jesus.

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Exodus in the Book of Acts


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