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writing things down…

Paul and Zealotry

The student I am supervising this summer in a reading of Acts has selected the  topic “Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s zeal in Acts.”  For the most part I am letting him develop the project in whatever direction he wishes.  The topic did get me to wondering something, though.  Does Luke’s language hint at a religio-political characterization?

There are 8 occurrences of zeal/zealot in Luke-Acts: 2 uses of zelotes in reference to Simon the Zealot (Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13); 2 uses of zelos in reference to Sadducees toward the apostles (Acts 5:17) and the Jews toward Paul (Acts 13:45); 2 participial uses of zeloo in reference to the patriarchs toward Joseph (Acts 7:9) and the Jews toward Paul and Silas (Acts 17:5); and 2 uses of zelotes in reference to “thousands of jews” being zealots for the law (Acts 21:20) and Paul being a zealot for God. [I find the translations in most English Bibles—”zealous for the law/God”—unsatisfying because they fail to note the nominal and they fail to note the specific use of zelotes.]

The most interesting group is the last one—the 2 uses of zelotes in seemingly positive ways and not in  reference to Simon.  The two uses are interesting for a variety of reasons, but my question is whether Luke purposely uses zelotes and not zelos or zeloo because he wants to evoke imagery of the religio-political group, the Zealots. If so, then Luke’s portrayal of Paul disrupts the typical notion of what it means to be a Zealot for his original readers. Am I making something out of nothing?

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1 Comment»

  Bill wrote @

I don’t think you’re onto nothing. My comment here turned into a whole post, so I’ve put it on my blog. Thanks very much for this!


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