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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 60, 2012

DENNIS J.HORTON, Death and Resurrection: The Shape and Function of a Literary Motif in the Book of Acts (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 2011). Pp. xvi + 136. Paperback. 18.00.

This book is a revision of a doctoral thesis submitted to Baylor University (Waco, Texas) in 1995. The American edition was published in 2009. It aims to establish death-and-resurrection as a single literary motif in Acts. And it thereby seeks to counter both a view of Acts as presenting a theology of glory (resurrection only) over against a Pauline theology of the cross, and a view of Acts as itself presenting a theology of the cross (suffering and death only). An effective literary motif is defined by its frequency, avoidability, occurrence in significant contexts, coherency and symbolic appropriateness (2, following W. Freedman). Motifs appear in the general or summary portrayal of events (“diegesis”), and in specific narrative of time, place and participants (“mimesis”; 7, following R. W. Funk).

In Chapter 1 Horton treats the diegetic presentation of the chosen motif. In hyperdiegetic comments the narrator speaks in summary “above” the primary narrative (Acts 1:1–3). Characters “within” the narrative make intradiegetic comments (Acts 2:14–40). Horton finds no tension between the narrator and the characters in their assessment of Jesus (28). And he soon begins to refer to Jesus as “the crucified-risen Messiah” (15; “messianic pattern,” already 10). The death-resurrection pattern is replicated in both the major and the minor characters, and either literally or metaphorically (Chapters 2 and 3). In Chapter 4 Horton aims to show how Acts emphasises the importance of the death-resurrection motif by contrast with the secondary motif of death and decay. In two intradiegetic passages (Acts 2 and 13), characters themselves assist Horton to make the contrast. Both Peter and Paul contrast the deceased David with the risen Jesus; Paul also warns his audience to choose forgiveness and life rather than to perish (Acts 13:38, 41, 46). On the “mimetic level” Horton himself needs to draw the contrast for some of the minor characters. The Conclusion assesses the application of the analytical procedure of Chapters 1 to 4; summarises the function of the death-resurrection motif under headings not previously mentioned (aesthetic value, encouragement, warning, evangelism and theological balance); and finally suggests the value of the analysis for reflection and future study. Horton sometimes weakens his case by asserting that one component of the death-resurrection motif alludes to the other (35–37, 51). The textual validity of Luke 23:34 is accepted for comparison with Stephen’s death (Acts 7:60) (49); and Stephen’s resurrection is assumed (51). Participation of other major and minor characters in death-resurrection can only reinforce the motif in reference to Jesus, if many of their experiences are taken as symbolic. This includes imprisonment and release Acts 4, 5, 12), Paul’s blindness and healing (Acts 9), the healings of lame men (Acts 3–4, 9, 14), and even Cornelius’s prostration before Peter (Acts 10:25). Paul’s stoning and recovery (Acts 14) is ambiguous. Egeirein and anistanai are not limited to resurrection (acknowledged for egeirein for anistanai cf. Acts 14:10, 20). Peter and Paul compare David with Jesus (Acts 2, 13) in order to make their scripture quotations apply to Jesus, not in order to contrast death-decay with death-resurrection (partially acknowledged for Peter). It need not be assumed that in Acts 12 Herod Agrippa “personally arrests Peter” (85). He (and Antiochus Epiphanes and Herod the Great) did not suffer decay as a consequence of death, but decay which led to death. This last point also applies to Judas at Acts 1:18, where there is no “variant reading” for prenes genemenos (89). Prestheis is derived from Papias’s account of the end of Judas. In 1698–99 J. E. Grabe suggested that those responsible for Papias’s source had read prestheis instead of presthes in Acts 1:18. In his Reliquiae Sacrae (1814–18; 2nd ed. 1846–48) M. J. Routh noted that prestheis genemenos would be impossible Greek. Then in 1900 J. R. Harris proposed that prestheis should replace the whole phrase prestheis genemenos as the original text of Acts.

Ananias and Sapphira are not said to “suffer death and decay” (91). According to Horton both Simon Magus and Elymas “fall into a deathlike state” (94). But Peter’s consigning Simon “to destruction” is a prelude to a call to repentance, to which Simon responds: “Pray for me …" (Acts 8:22, 24). And Elymas’s blindness, which allegedly offers no “future hope of recovery” (99), will last only “until an appropriate-time” (Acts 13:11); within the New Testament the phrase arche kairou occurs only here and in Luke 4:13, which is fulfilled in Luke 22:3 (Luke only). Horton hardly explains how Satan “will also suffer death and decay” (101).

Horton’s study retains features of thesis style. Despite the independence with which he conducts his study, there is excessive quotation of or reference to secondary sources. Autobiographical allusion to his student situation should have been eliminated. References to the limitations on the scope of the study seem unnecessary. Acknowledgement that the Gospel of Luke has not been included is odd, when the length of the study might have allowed it. Horton does not always express himself well. Some grammatical errors may be mis-prints. There are other typographical mistakes in English and Greek (including spelling and accents). In general the text of Acts has been somewhat squeezed to fit the method of analysis. And it is only incidentally acknowledged that, whereas the death of Jesus is a public event, the risen Jesus appears only to believers (17 n. 57; cf. Acts 10.41; 13.31).

Review by
Centre for Classics and Archaeology
University of Melbourne VIC 3010