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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 51, 2003

J. P. Heil, The Meal Scenes in Luke Acts: An Audience-Oriented Approach (Atlanta: SBL Publications, 1999). Pp. Xii+367. $US 45.00.

Appearing in the SBL Monograph Series, John Paul Heil’s The Meal Scenes in Luke Acts offers the kind of detailed analysis expected in such series. Heil’s narrative-critical analysis treats Luke-Acts as a narrative unity. The first chapter outlines the methodology which focuses on the effect of the text on the “authorial audience”. For Heil, “[t]he authorial audience is … equivalent to the ‘implied reader’, the reader that is presupposed not only by the text but by the socio-historical and literary context of the text.” (p. 3)

Heil describes a “meal scene” as “an integral narrative unit in which an actual meal involving the hospitality of eating and drinking provides the main framework or a dominant concern of the scene or unit and occurs as part of the narrated action” (p. 5). Each chapter of the book deals in order with a different meal scene or sequence in its immediate context within the narrative of Luke-Acts. In sixteen separate chapters, Heil considers Luke 5:27–6:5; 7:36–50; 9:10–17; 10:38–42; 11:37–54; 14:1–24; 15:1–32; 16:19–31; 19:1–10; 22:7–38; 24:28–35; 24:41–43; Acts 2:42–47; 10:1–11:18; 20:7–12; 27:33–38. From chapter two onwards, each chapter offers a final summary section detailing the “pragmatics” of the particular meal scene under consideration. In addition, from chapter four onwards a penultimate summary section sets out the relation of the meal scene currently under consideration to previous meal scenes. These summary sections are immensely helpful in highlighting the key themes that Heil reads in Luke-Acts in relation to the hospitality of the meal.

A key emphasis for Heil is the “joy, nourishment and abundance” of the eschatological banquet (p.128), which is brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection (p. 216). Not surprisingly, Heil sees Luke 22:7–38 “as the focal point for all of the other meals in Luke-Acts” (p. 312, Heil’s italics). In anticipating the eschatological banquet, the meals of Luke-Acts highlight and develop a number of interwoven Lukan themes, concerning repentance, proper leadership, salvation, inclusivity, divine necessity, and hospitality. Notable is a dynamics of hospitality, in which Jesus as guest is host, offering the (divine) hospitality of forgiveness and salvation. Also significant is the way in which the satisfaction of physical hunger and compassion for social outcasts is essential to the communality of the meal.

The themes developed in Luke are furthered in Acts, where: “The meal fellowship of the Jerusalem believers [Acts 2:42–47] which includes the breaking of bread, serves as a notable transition from Jesus’ breaking of the bread with his disciples to the believing community’s eucharistic breaking of the bread” (pp. 241–42; Heil’s italics). In both cases the eucharistic meal enables continuing fellowship with the risen Jesus. Meals also become “contexts for conversion” (p. 266). They mediate the unity of the newly-baptized with the established believing community. As the narrative develops, questions concerning meal fellowship with Gentiles, the inclusion of women and men as hosts and guests, and fellowship with believers and unbelievers, are resolved.

The Meal Scenes offers a close and insightful reading of Luke-Acts with the grain of the text. My only concern with this approach is the somewhat un-nuanced reading of the characterisation of the Pharisees and lawyers or scribes. But the close readings of passages, such as 19:1–10 and 22:7–38, are immensely rewarding, and there are many sections to which I will return for reference. In this respect the extensive footnotes, bibliography and scriptural and author indexes are invaluable.

Finally, Heil’s attentiveness to verbal, grammatical, and thematic repetitions and echoes in the text of Luke-Acts, combined with his systematic approach to analysing the meal scenes in their sequence and context, pleasingly conveys the dynamic character of the narrative and the skill of its ancient author. I would recommend this volume to theological libraries, biblical scholars and serious students of Luke-Acts.

Review by
Dr. Anne Elvey
Monash University
Clayton, Victoria