ON THE ROAD ENCOUNTERS IN LUKE-ACTS: HELLENISTIC MIMESIS AND LUKE’S THEOLOGY OF THE WAYWritten by OCTAVIAN D. BABAN Reviewed By James Read
Students of Luke-Acts will be familiar with the way Luke builds his narrative on journeys such as Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and the numerous missionary journeys culminating with Paul’s journey to Rome. In this volume (a revision of his PhD thesis) Octavian Baban probes deeper into Luke’s post-Easter narrative, exploring how Luke’s journeying motif or theology of the Way is more illuminating for contemporary readers when one understands the influences upon his literary-theological perspective. Thus his review of scholarship in chapter one concludes that to fully grasp Luke’s Way motif, one must account for the shorter journey stories in Luke-Acts with their refined literary and pervasive Hellenistic intertextuality.
Accordingly, Baban expounds his methodology in chapter two, explaining the literary concept of ‘mimesis’ as an ‘interpreted representation of reality’ (73) first articulated in Aristotelian philosophy. Luke follows the rules of Hellenistic mimesis used in his contemporary literary environment: historiography, novel-writing, tragedy, and the epic genre. For example, Luke’s understanding of depicting tragedy is apparently made richer by his awareness of the Aristotelian ‘flaw’, which is seen in Saul’s life before his conversion, Cleopas’ disappointment, and the Eunuch’s social exclusion. These and other aspects of Luke’s literary artistry (e.g. climactic recognitions, reversals of fate, divine intervention) are then filtered through his own theology and literary taste, reinforcing to his readers the credibility of his account.
Before focusing on the post-Easter encounters set on ‘the way’ (hodos), Baban analyses the synoptic hodos material (chapter 3). He shows how Luke alters Matthew’s and Mark’s journeying notes, while including ‘journey within journey stories’ (179) in Luke 9–19. Each journey is a literary motif with a specific role within the narrative. Whether the Good Samaritan, Zacchaeus, or the prodigal son, each ‘hodos’ encounter reflects Hellenistic requirements for a well-written plot: recognition scenes, turning points, reversals of destiny, suffering scenes, and resotrational endings (194).
To prove the complexity of the Lukan motif of journeying, Baban explores the literary anatomy and narrative function of three post-Easter hodos encounters (Luke 24:13–34; Acts 8:26–40; 9:1–19). Chapter four demonstrates the real fruit of his study. Baban’s ability to spot narrative features is highly illuminating, drawing attention to the way that each encounter contributes to the advance of the overall plot: the gospel’s journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Each hodos encounter begins with a degree of pathos and ends with recognition and a restoration into fellowship, illustrated by a sacramental act (table fellowship at Emmaus, baptism of the Eunuch, and a commissioning and baptism for Saul).
Finally, Baban reinforces the importance of these hodos encounters for the overall thrust of the Lukan narrative. They confirm the presence of a Gentile evangelistic initiative, while also providing illustrations of individual transformation undergone by the Easter kerygma, where the hodos motif becomes symbolic of God’s initiatives towards the Gentiles. Thus Luke’s use of Hellenistic mimesis patterns (his literary representation of the Way) moves the hodos motif on from an Isaianic reference to way of the Lord (cf. Luke 3:4b), to a resurrection symbol (an evangelistic symbol), finally to being associated with the essence of Christianity itself.
This book sheds light on what first appears to be an insignificant NT word (hodos). Patient, careful reading will be greatly repaid despite the somewhat cumbersome diversion into the world of Hellenistic story telling. It is also important reading for those seeking to expand their understanding of narrative criticism. Baban successfully shows Luke’s caliber as an evangelist, an educated writer, a talented storyteller, and profound theologian. Above all he communicates Luke’s conviction of his desire that his readers encounter the resurrected Jesus during their journey through life.
Bible Institute Eastern Cape
Port Elizabeth, South Africa