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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 50, 2002

D. P. Bechard, Paul outside the Walls: A Study of Luke’s Socio-Geographical Universalism in Acts 14:8–20 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 2000). Pp. 541. $US40.00

In his revised Yale dissertation of 1997, Dean P. Bechard is not primarily concerned to present a detailed analysis and exegesis of Acts 14:8–20. Rather, the greater part of the book provides a very extensive background to the key passage. Chapter one is a history of modern interpretation of Acts 13–14. Bechard acknowledges debts to C. H. Talbert, C. Breytenbach and R. I. Pervo, but they do not heavily influence the succeeding chapters. Bechard’s own “socio-geographical” approach in the central chapters takes account of three levels: actual geography and ethnology of Lycaonia, conceptual geography of ancient writers, and mythology associated with Lycaonia (especially flood myths and stories about entertaining deities unawares). In chapter four, the Jewish threefold division of the nations of the world is traced from Genesis 10 to Acts 2:1–13. The Lycaonians are seen as representatives of “the scattered descendants of Japheth” (p. 384). Lycaonia’s reputation for “rustic simplicity” and ‘primitive lifestyle’ in Graeco-Roman tradition (p. 407) is treated in chapter five.

The reader requires perseverance to reach the point where the key passage is set against its social and geographical background. Here, Bechard contends that, “By singling out within his narrative account of Paul’s missionary career the Lycaonian-speaking rustics of Lystra and the urban sophisticates of Athens [Acts 17], whose respective reputations placed them at opposite ends of the geo-cultural horizon, Luke was able to underscore the diachronic and synchronic universality of the Christian mission … ” (p. 376).

The sub-title of the book suggests some universal dimension of Christian mission within the key passage. But there is only the forbearance of the (one) living God in allowing “all” the nations in past (pre-Christian) generations to go their own ways (Acts 14:16). Bechard repeatedly emphasizes the mission “to (all) the nations” as the main theme of Acts. (The inadequacy of this view is betrayed on p. 355; for the variable scope of “nations” in Lucan usage, see pp. 157–64.) The mission to Lystra is only one component of the mission to Japheth’s descendants within the universal mission.

The author tends to construct convoluted sentences, which frequently include lengthy parentheses. Footnotes are extensive and sometimes outweigh the text (e.g., p. 257). The reader is in danger of losing the thread of the argument amid the mass of documentation. Misprints are more frequent in the notes than in the text. Occasionally there is a misunderstanding, as when Cicero’s “speech on the agrarian laws” is confused with his dialogue-treatise de Legibus; there are three speeches de Lege Agraria (see p. 234, n. 3) The two black-and white maps of Roman Asia Minor and modern Turkey lack relief and do not greatly assist the reader in following geographical descriptions in the text (e.g., Taurus mountains, pp. 203–4). Coin reproductions are not always easy to decipher.

Overall, this is a learned and painstaking work. The very extensive background seems more than is necessary for the argument. The argument itself perhaps goes beyond what the text of Acts justifies. At the same time, the argument does not seem to answer all the problems that are raised by the text.

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
Centre for Archaeology & Classics
The University of Melbourne