In a new article (“Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13: The Denouement of the South Galatian Hypothesis”, NovT 54.4 : 334-53), Clare Rothschild argues a number of controversial theses relating to the composition of Acts 13 and the text’s relationship to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. She argues that “Luke” (i.e., the author who wrote Acts in 115 C.E.) produced the account of Paul’s visit to South Galatia in Acts 13 without the aid of any historical data about Paul’s actual journey there—that is, with the exception of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians itself. In fact, the account is fictional, and was created for two reasons:
- “to provide grounds for Paul’s foundation of the Galatic churches, irrespective of the historicity of its presentation in Acts” (334; she refers to the account throughout as a “desideratum”);
- to place Paul in the colony of Pisidian Antioch (“Little Rome”) at the start of his gentile-centered gospel ministry in order to form a literary inclusio with the apostle’s journey to the imperial capital (“Big Rome”) at the end of the book. “Pisidian Antioch,” she explains, “affords Luke an attractively Romanesque departure point for his Roman-born, Roman-named, Rome-bound missionary” (348).
Luke, therefore, perhaps the first proponent of the Southern Galatian hypothesis, mistakenly portrays Paul’s ministry to have taken place in South Galatia, when, in fact, it took place in the north. Her theory, as she explains in the article’s final paragraph, “invalidates the Southern Galatian Hypothesis by demonstrating that South Galatia is based on nothing more than a blank mandate to get Paul to Galatia and a literary advantage of placing him in the South. And, conversely, it confirms the Northern Galatian Hypothesis: for many scholars the more cogent explanation, even before this argument was made” (353).
Rothschild’s article is certainly provocative, if not highly speculative. Indeed, there are a number of problems with her argumentation. First, even if one were to grant her thesis on Acts’ composition and literary structure, it does not follow that the Northern Galatian Hypothesis is thereby “confirmed,” as she supposes. Casting doubt on the historicity of Luke’s account does not prove that Paul never founded churches in Southern Galatian, or that the epistle to the Galatians was addressed to Northern Galatia. She does not, for instance, address the historical difficulties of the Northern Galatian Hypothesis identified by Stephen Mitchell, even though she is clearly aware of them (336-37 n. 5). In fact, Rothschild never actually advances a case for the Northern Galatian Hypothesis, only that Luke’s account in Acts 13 is fictional and its denouement in the plot of Acts lies in its connection with the end of the book.
Moreover, Rothschild believes that her argumentation demonstrates that “South Galatia is based on nothing more than a blank mandate to get Paul to Galatia” (353). But she does not adequately demonstrate the basis of this mandate. Why is Luke so committed to getting Paul to South Galatia if, in fact, he did not have good reason to do so? Was it simply for the literary purpose of bookending Paul’s ministry with Romanesque cities? This is doubtful, since Luke mentions nothing in Acts 13 about Pisidian Antioch being a Roman colony. As Conzelmann remarks, “The Roman character of the city is not recognizable in Acts (in contrast to [Philippi in] 16:12).”
It seems far more plausible, then, that Luke places Paul and company in South Galatia, because that is where they traveled following the conversion of the proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus, whose possessions and prominence in South Galatia made that region an advantageous place to do ministry with the proconsul’s commendation (of course, Rothschild does not accept the historicity of the Cyprus mission, either).
To her first point—that the mission to Pisidian Antioch is creative fiction—she presents five textual features to make her case: “(1) stereotypes; (2) lack of detail; (3) historical inaccuracies; (4) brisk narrative pace; and (5) link between Cyprus and Antioch” (340). I’ll present part of her explanations and then limit my comments to some initial thoughts.
Stereotypes replace historical information in Acts 13-14, suggesting that the author knows little more about Paul in the region of Galatia than the duty to place him there. If, for the sake of argument, the “three missionary journeys” model for Acts is adopted, the second journey—with its references to Jerusalem—poses by far the most historical questions. Challenges posed by the first journey seem minor in contrast. With some exceptions, traveling from Paphos to Perge, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Attalia comprises the expected Galatian tour. Pisidian Antioch made a natural choice as hub. . . . Antioch was caput viae of this road system, running east through Iconium and Lystra in Lycaonia and southwest through Apollonia and Comama across the Taurus Mountains to Perge in Pamphylia.
In terms of Luke’s narrative, the via Sebaste would have taken Paul on his so-called first journey. In fact, the cities of Paul’s journey beginning in Pisidian Antioch adhere so closely to the route of the via Sebaste as to appear stereotypical. A writer in possession of a map or even just a list of the cities on this road might easily have selected them as an itinerant missionary’s (or other traveler’s) choices in lieu of sources. (340-41)
I find this to be a curious argument. Paul’s route, she explains, “comprises the expected Galatian tour.” I do not understand how one gets from “expected” to “stereotypical” to unhistorical. If this route is in any sense “typical,” why is it not thereby extremely plausible? Her point seems to rest on certain unstated assumptions about how to assess historicity. I suspect that if Luke had Paul traveling a route that was in fact atypical, she could have just as easily used that as grounds to argue for the text’s unreliability.
2. Lack of Detail:
The second observation that Galatia constitutes a desideratum of Luke’s narrative irrespective of access to specific information about Paul’s visit there (either to the North or South) is that, different from other cities [cf. 19:9] . . . Acts’ account of Paul’s visit with Barnabas to this city lacks detail. The account comprises, almost entirely, a speech to Jews and others who “fear God.” As such, the report is a construct of the Lukan imagination. Whereas the episodes about Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (14:1-20) feature local color in lieu of historical detail, the report about Pisidian Antioch lacks both. (342)
This is a bit misleading, since, as Rothschild assumes in the second half of the article, Luke knew plenty about the Romanization of Antioch to use the colony to form an inclusio with Acts 28. Knowing enough about Antioch to consider it to be “Little Rome” seems at least comparable to the “local color” that Luke knows of other cities visited on Paul’s first mission. If Luke was not aware enough of the colony’s “local color” to report Paul’s visit in any detail, why is it fair to assume he knew enough about the Romanization of the colony to use it in an inclusio? This sounds like special pleading.
3. Historical Inaccuracies:
Third, what little the narrative offers about Paul in Galatia is not always accurate. Although 13:13 mentions that the missionaries arrive from Paphos at Perge—Perge was not on the coast and the nearest tributary (i.e., the Cestrus River) was still eight kilometers from this city. Pisidian Antioch was not in Pisidia (it was, rather, “toward” or “facing” Pisidia as opposed to Antioch on the Maeander), and the adjective “Pisidian” (Πισίδιος, 13:14) has no prior attestation. The episode in Pisidian Antioch is at once significant and hollow, suggesting some kind of empty imperative. (343-44)
I’m not sure that it is fair to infer from Acts 13:13 that Perge was the first stop following the departure of Paul and company from Paphos. The Greek ēlthon eis (“came to”; cf. Acts 13:51; 14:24; 17:1; 22:11; and many other places in the LXX/NT) simply indicates arrival; to force it to mean “to land the boat at,” or perhaps “came directly/immediately to,” seems to force the phrase to mean something it does not demand. Indeed, if Luke was able to create Paul’s route by map, as Rothschild supposes, why would he not have been able to realize that Perge was not a harbor town?
Moreover, Pisidian Antioch (Antiocheian tēn Pisidian) is simply an attributive adjective and this does not necessarily imply that Luke believed Antioch was located within the geographical limits of Pisidia; it was simply the Antioch related to, or associated, with Pisidia, to which it faced. As F. F. Bruce explains, “Πισιδίαν is an adj. here: Pisidian Antioch was so called because it was near Pisidia.” And as Colin Hemer remarks, “‘The Pisidian Antioch’ is an informal allusion to a city of Phrygia on the Pisidian border.” Again, if Luke knew enough about Antioch as “Little Rome” to link it to “Big Rome,” why would he not have known where Antioch was located? Rothschild seems to be grasping at straws here to demonstrate the inaccuracy of this particular narrative.
4. and 5. Brisk Narrative Pace and Cyprus and Antioch
Fourth, the Pisidian Antioch episode is driven by a sense of urgency. No sooner do Paul and Barnabas arrive in Antioch than they enter the synagogue to deliver a speech. (344)
[T]he fifth and final observation . . . is that the Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch incidents are, in at least one important respect, linked. The Bar-Jesus episode (nine verses) constitutes the miraculous component of a two-part—miracle + teaching—segment, a common feature of the Lukan narrative. The apostles’ dash to the synagogue emphasizes the connection, unifying Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch. (345)
Now, I don’t know nearly as much as Rothschild about the literary and stylistic features of Acts, but it seems plausible that the fifth feature, in fact, helps to explain the fourth, which also helps to explain the second: Luke desires to connect the two episodes; he therefore narrates them with urgency, and therefore omits the details. Thus, the features of the text do not suggest that the narrative is some kind of historical fiction; rather it was written selectively. As William Ramsay eloquently remarks, “The power of accurate description implies in itself a power of reconstructing the past, which involves the most delicate selection and grouping of details according to their truth and reality, i.e., according to their comparative importance.”
I do not, of course, approach the NT without presuppositions. But even if I were to try to lay my historical and theological assumptions aside, I do not find Rothschild’s evidence to be strong. Her evidence certainly does not “demonstrate” what she thinks it does, nor is she able to “validate” the Northern Galatian Hypothesis; her argument neither adds support to nor confirms anything about the audience of Paul’s letter. The whole exercise seems to beg for a preliminary discussion on how to assess historicity.