Something Wild: The Wilderness Aesthetic in Luke-Acts Open Access

Arnold, Elizabeth (Fall 2021)

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My dissertation, “Something Wild: The Wilderness Aesthetic in Luke-Acts,” is a literary study using both reader-response and narrative criticism, and it spans the entire narrative of Luke-Acts. In this study, I examine how Luke’s way of reading scripture (particularly LXX Isaiah) enables him to understand the wilderness symbolically, and this method of reading informs and shapes how he writes the wilderness in his own composition. I argue that Luke’s wilderness displays an aesthetic of unhindered possibility—a result from reading the wilderness of scripture as the symbol of both Israel’s past and eschatological future. The result of such an aesthetic is that the reader is conditioned to associate the wilderness with certain types of actions and attitudes, such as egalitarian community, release from bondage, and the ability to see God’s salvation. I argue that Luke’s story sustains this wilderness aesthetic throughout the two volumes of the Gospel and Acts.

The aesthetic of the wilderness—that of openness, possibility, and freedom—functions in contrast to the repressive aesthetic of the οἰκουμένη: understood here as not only the Roman Empire, but the entire framework of human political, economic, and religious systems. This argument works on a broadly thematic level, not unlike Susan Garrett’s does in 

The Demise of the Devil (although Garrett works specifically on the notion of divine versus demonic kingdom and does not take up the human systems emphasis). Not only is this wilderness as theme sustained, but as it gains momentum throughout the story, the wilderness aesthetic increasingly confounds the boundary between wilderness and οἰκουμένη. The wilderness therefore continually undermines and progressively dismantles the οἰκουμένη and its aesthetic façade of power and control.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Approaching Luke-Acts through the Wilderness                                          1

1.1  The Aesthetic Reading of Wilderness

1.1.1    Aesthetic Reading

1.1.2      The Wilderness Theme

1.1.3      Luke’s Wilderness Aesthetic

1.2  History of Interpretation

1.2.1      Biblical and Jewish Literature

1.2.2      New Testament Scholarship

1.3  Thesis and Method

1.3.1      Thesis Statement

1.3.2      My Approach

1.3.3      Premises of Study

1.4  Outline of Dissertation

1.4.1      Identifying the Aesthetic (Chapter 2)

1.4.2    The Wilderness in Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 3)

1.4.2      The Wilderness Motif in Acts (Chapter 4)  Narrative Account of Ethiopian Eunuch  Excursus: Stephen’s Speech in Acts 7

1.4.4      The Wilderness and Baptism (Chapter 5)

1.4.5      As in the Beginning, So in the End: The Wilderness Continues (Chapter 6)

1.4.6      Epilogue: Conclusions and Implications

Chapter 2: Identifying the Aesthetic—Luke 3:1-20                                                          25

2.1   How Luke Reads

2.1.1    How Luke Reads Mark

2.1.2      How Luke Reads Isaiah  As a Book  Symbolically/Aesthetically

2.2     How Luke Writes the Wilderness

2.2.1    Synchronic Marker (3:1-2)

2.2.2      John and the Isaiah Quotation (3:3-6)  Wilderness and Oἰκουμένη Opposed  The Salvation of God

2.2.3      John and Repentant People (3:7-18)

2.2.4      John’s Arrest and Imprisonment (3:19-20)

2.3 Summary

Chapter 3: The Wilderness Aesthetic in Luke’s Gospel                                                   56

3.1   Baptism, Genealogy, and Temptations of Jesus (Luke 3:21-4:13)

3.1.1.     The Wilderness Evoking Scripture/Israel’s Past Universal Salvation

3.1.2    The Oἰκουμένη

               First Temptation

               Second Temptation

               Third Temptation

3.2  The Kingdom of God is Announced (Luke 4:42-44)

            3.2.1   The Wilderness

            3.2.2   The Oἰκουμένη

3.3  The Salvation of the Gerasenes Demoniac (Luke 8:26-39)

            3.3.1   The Oἰκουμένη: While in the City

            3.3.2   The Wilderness: Into the Wilds

            3.3.3   The Oἰκουμένη: “And they were afraid”

3.4  The Embattled Kingdom: Herod, the 5000, and the Disciples (Luke 9:7-22)

            3.4.1   A Wilderness Story?

            3.4.2   The Oἰκουμένη—Brutal and Blind (9:7-9)

            3.4.3   The Wilderness—Bread for “All the People” (9:10-17)

               Evoking Israel’s Past

               Universal Salvation

            3.4.4   The Oἰκουμένη—The Killing of the Prophets (9:18-22)

               Jesus’s Identity

               Jerusalem Identity

3.5.   Summary

Chapter 4:  The Wilderness  in Acts                                                                                   88

4.1   Introduction

4.2   Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)

4.2.1    Wilderness Universal Salvation  Evoking Isaiah

4.2.2    Oἰκουμένη  Persecution Before Story  Persecution After Story

4.3  Excursus: Stephen’s Speech in Acts 7

Chapter 5: Extending the Wilderness through Baptism                                                  114

5.1   Introduction

5.2  What Prevents Saul, the Persecutor of the Church?

5.3  What Prevents Cornelius, a Gentile Centurion?

5.4  What Prevents Lydia, a Woman of Thyatira?

5.5  What Prevents a Philippian Jailor?

5.6  What Prevents Crispus, a Synagogue Official?

5.7  Conclusions

Chapter 6: As in the Beginning, So in the End—The Wilderness Continues                142

6.1   The End of Acts as (the First) Wilderness Scene

6.1.1    Evoking Israel’s Past The Hope of Israel Moses and the Prophets Isaiah 6:9-10

6.1.2    Universal Salvation Gentiles and Salvation Sight and Hearing Every and All Unhindered

6.1.3    Contrast with Oἰκουμένη Prison and Chains Unhindered and Free Blindness and Hearing

6.1.4    The Apostle and the Baptist

6.2   Luke’s Way of Reading Isaiah and the Wilderness

Epilogue: Summary and Conclusions                                                                                174

Bibliography                                                                                                                          179



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