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Luke's Portrayal of Paul's Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41: A Postcolonial Reflection

Luke's Portrayal of Paul's Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41: A Postcolonial Reflection
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  5 Doon Theological Journal 10.1 (2013): 5-29. Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Ephesian Ministry inActs 19:11-41: A Postcolonial Reflection Roji T. George** Roji T. George is Senior Lecturer of New Testament Studies at Luther W. New Jr. Theological College, Dehradun, India. Introduction The political tenor of Luke-Acts has been recognized in the past.However, they have been articulated in a way to highlight theoppositional tenor of the Lucan account of the early Christianconfession and mission under the Roman rule. As a by-product of thatthe complex cultural forms of political posturing in ambivalent termshave been overlooked. It is in this scenario that the postcolonialtheoretical tools lenient towards postmodernism and poststructuralismhave been warmly welcomed by many biblical scholars. It came handyin order to unravel the complex texture of the biblical writings. Reading biblical passages from this perspective enables one to exhume thehidden forms of negotiations of power taking place in the ancienttexts. It grants an interpreter the luxury of acknowledging the textualambivalence as it is, while avoiding the pitfall of interpretiveoversimplification. Hence, in the discussion that follows, the textualcomplexities of Lucan narration of Paul’s mission in Ephesus is notedwith care as forming a part of a larger postcolonial discursive worldcriss-crossed by various ideologically loaded discourses from multiplecultural locations in the then (post)colonial environment.In this article the primary intent is to read the Lucan portrait of the early Christian mission, especially that of Paul, against its colonial backdrop. To this end, it is important to understand the author of the  7 Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41 sending His son to offer salvation. 1  It culminates at the end of thesecond volume, the Acts of the Apostles,  with Paul preaching theKingdom of God in Rome, the imperial capital (Acts 28:23-31).Throughout Luke-Acts, the movement is mapped within the framework of the Roman imperial history (Lk 2:1; 3:1). He repeatedly mentions theimperial agents of power like Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts10), the unnamed Jailer (Acts 16:22-40), Sergius Paulus and Gallio, the proconsuls (Acts 13 and 18, respectively), the Roman procurators Felixand Festus (Acts 24-26). By all this Luke is thought to be keen in portraying the Roman officials, thereby Rome, in good light against whomneither Christians indulge in anti-imperial activities nor the officials punished or persecuted them for any such activities. 2 While Luke repeatedly mentions Rome positively in Luke-Acts,his subversive voice as the member of the colonized culture, race or community is audible. It is true that Luke does not propagandize anarmed opposition to Rome. However, as Gilbert maintains, Luke viewsthe standing of Christians before Rome through the lens of Jesus’ life,death and resurrection which are firm evidences to him for the arrivalof a new reality that subverts the authenticity of the Empire and her hegemonic claims. “By contesting Rome’s claims, transposing Romanexpressions of authority to Jesus and the early church, and offeringalternative models of world rule, Luke-Acts creates a counter-discoursethat responds to and resists Roman imperial authority and, in so doing,seeks to constitute an understanding of being a Christian in the Romanworld.” 3  It implies that he does not promote/justify an uncritical/slavishsubordination of the colonized subjects/nations to the colonizer’s ‘Willto Power.’ 1  A common yet important insight in the Lucan understanding of the divineoffer of ‘salvation,’ in and through the coming of the Messiah, is its forceful liberativethrust. It is an event of announcing the good news to all who were/are/will be heldcaptive to socio-political, religious and cultural oppressive forces (Lk 4:18-19). Under the presence of aggressive Roman imperialism and the imperial propaganda, Lucanhistorical narrative forms a discourse which challenges every form of oppressivedomination. 2  Philip F. Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts , SNTSMS 57 (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1987), 218. 3  Gary Gilbert, “Luke-Acts and Negotiation of Authority and Identity in theRoman World,” in The Multivalence of Biblical Texts and Theological Meanings , ed.Christine Helmer and Charlene T. Higbe, SBL Symposium Series 37 (Leiden/Boston:Brill, 2006), 87.  9 continuity of the history of salvation? That is the theological aspect.But in cutting adrift from Judaism Christianity also loses the tolerationwhich the Jewish religion enjoys. Denounced by the Jews as hostile tothe state, it becomes the object of suspicion of Rome. That is the politicalaspect. Acts takes both constantly into account. 6 These complexities of Luke must inform our textual praxis. It oughtto be taken seriously to unravel the nuanced political voice(s) embeddedwithin the book of Acts. However, the reconstruction of Luke’sengagement with the issues threatening the very existence of himself and his community within a straight-jacket  pro -imperial apologetic framework is inadequate. 7  It glosses over the multivalence of the textand his complex and subtle resistant attitude towards those cultural- political elements which further the political domination of the colonizingculture. Instead, the postcolonial theoretical tools with the poststructuralleniency come handy in exploring the subtle cultural forms of Luke’smulti-forked response(s) to the Roman imperialism – both discursiveand historical – and the dominant Jewish or Greek culture in the firstcentury CE. In this sense, the Lucan portrayal of Paul’s ministry inEphesus and his encounter with Jewish and Greek subjects may beviewed as his subtle negotiation, contestation of cultural space inambivalent terms under Roman colonialism. The manner of presentationof Paul’s ministry attested by miracles and exorcism in Ephesus and theresultant riot triggered by the fear of Christianity as a threat to themagnificence of the cult of Ephesian Artemis could be seen as the author’ssubtle discursive resistance to the colonial claims. In the past, the major commentators on the Acts of the Apostles  have overlooked it. 8 6  Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary , trans. R. McL.Wilson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 100. 7  cf. Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts , 205-219. Esler highlighting theweakness of the apologetic purpose argues that Luke’s purpose was to legitimizeChristianity as not against Rome. He wanted to tell his Roman readers that it is possible to continue one’s allegiance to both Rome and Christ. Contra Esler, see, AllenBrent, “Luke-Acts and the Imperial Cult in Asia Minor,”  JTS   48/2 (1997): 411-438.Brent maintains that it is “founded on the dubious legal notion of the quest for statusas a religio licita, with a thesis about legitimation. …(Hence, it) is only partially trueand possibly misleading.” (412, Parenthesis added) 8  For example, William H. Williman,  Acts , Interpretation: A Bible Commentaryfor Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 147-152; F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts , NICNT, rev ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988), 367-379; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introductionand Commentary , AB, vol. 31 (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 648-663. Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41  11 12  Paul Trebilco, “Asia,” in The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting  , ed.David W.J. Gill and Conrad Gempf, vol. 2 of The Book of Acts in its First Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans/Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994), 303-304. 13  Trebilco, “Asia,” 305; Oster, “Ephesus,” 543. 14  Trebilco, “Asia,” 305. 15  cf. F. Sokolowski, “Notes and Observations: A New Testimony on the Cultof Artemis of Ephesus,”  HTR  58/4 (1965): 429; Richard Wallace and Wynne Williams, The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus  (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 197. in 133 BCE, she continued to play an important role in the Roman history.A brief survey of the history of the city proves that Ephesus switchedher political loyalty between the greater powers until the inaugurationof the Augustan era when it was finally accorded with special statusand gained economic growth. At first, when Rome and Mithridatesclashed, Ephesus quickly extended an enthusiastic support to Mithridatesagainst Rome in which they not only overthrew the Roman statuesfrom their city but, violating the ancient human (enemy’s) right to takeasylum in temples, they massacred the Roman and Italian refugees inthe temple of Artemis. Later, Ephesus revolted against Mithridates whichwas vehemently suppressed. However, after Sulla defeated Mithridatesin 84 BCE, the cities went under Roman domination until 47 BCE.During the years of civil war among the generals in Rome, Ephesusextended support to Antony against Octavian in 41 BCE. But after Octavian’s victory against Antony at Actium, Ephesus found favour inhis sight and replaced Pergamum as the capital of the province of Asia. 12 With the dawn of the Augustan reign and the establishment of  Pax Romana , Ephesus received immense benefits, including, economic prosperity and quick urbanization. Ephesus due to its geographical locationemerged as an important link between sea trade and the trade routes intothe hinterlands of Asia. In 29 BCE, Ephesus acquired the right to dedicatea temple to  Dea Roma  and  Divis Iulius  in the city from Augustus. 13  This, probably, created a huge positive response among the colonized subjectsin Ephesus because of which the new tribes and their subdivisions werenamed after the Julio-Claudian emperors (a tribe named ‘Sebaste’subdivided into ‘Kaisarion,’ ‘Tiberion’ and ‘Klaudion’). 14 It is in this context of imperial presence and its influence upon thenative religion that the cult of Artemis must be understood. The cult of Artemis seems to have had close relation with the then imperial presencein Ephesus. The cult of Artemis assimilated the influences of Greek andthe Anatolian religious elements of the ‘mother goddess’ cult (Cybele). 15 Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41  13 22  Kreitzer, “A Numismatic Clue,” 61. 23  Kreitzer, “A Numismatic Clue,” 61-63. 24  Kreitzer, “A Numismatic Clue,” 65. 25  Kreitzer, “A Numismatic Clue,” 66. cistophori issued were unique as “[m]uch of the time such indigenousissues were designed for local circulation or use and their language of inscription was Greek. However, the two relevant cistophori issues fromEphesus have Latin inscriptions which may serve as some indication of their semi-official status and their production under the auspices of theRoman state.” 22  He mentions several types of cistophori of which afew explain the significance of Diana/Artemis temple in Ephesus for the Imperial propaganda. The two coins minted at Ephesus (Figure 2and 3) bore the image of Claudius. In one, on the obverse, he appearswith Agrippina (Figure 2) and, on the reverse, the image of Diana/Artemis of Ephesus in her ceremonial dress inscribed as DIANAEPHESIA (Figure 3 has a shorter inscription DIAN EPHE). 23 Interestingly, even in other inscriptions Agrippina is closely identifiedwith the goddess Diana/Artemis in Ephesus which coheres well withher desire “for official recognition of power and imperial titles.” 24  It isfurther proved by the indigenous bronze coin issued at the occasion of the marriage of the emperor Claudius and Agrippina. The coin bearsthe image of Claudius and Agrippina, on the obverse, and the culticstatue of Diana/Artemis along with an inscription EPHESIA, on thereverse. Hence, Kreitzer concludes that “a religious syncretism wasindeed in operation and that a mutually beneficial arrangement betweenthe Emperor Claudius and the city of Ephesus is reached via the mintingof such commemorative issues.” 25 It is evident that the minting of coins at Ephesus reflects the closenexus established between Diana/Artemis and the Royal family of Rome.It furthered Rome’s imperial agenda by propagating and naturalizingthe colonizer’s authority. During the Roman period, minting of coinswas an effective tool for propagating colonial ideology and there byones domination. These cistophori reminded its daily users their politicalstatus as the colonized subjects under the divinely appointed ruler of theentire world, the Roman emperor. If so, then, the practice of inscribingof the images of Diana/Artemis upon coins provides us with an advantageto unravel the political tenor of Acts 19:23-41. On the contrary, thecolonized Ephesians too used them both to expend their influence and Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Ephesian Ministry in Acts 19:11-41
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