Lecture 2: Genre and Historiography of the book of Acts
Lecture 2: Genre and Historiography of the book of Acts
a. Acts as a Novel
Scholars have proposed a number of genres or literary types for the Book of Acts. One of which we have looked at is the biography, and there is a number of useful elements in that proposal. Another proposal which has been much more controversial for Acts is the novel. This has mainly been proposed by Richard Pervo. Actually Pervo, today, would deny this; he was never really saying that Acts was a novel. He was making comparisons with novels and recognizing Acts as a popular level work, rather than an elite historical work. Looking at the proposal of a novel as a number of people have taken his original argument and thus we should read it as a novel. One of the arguments is that Luke caricatures his opponents which makes them look really bad. Some people do act really badly but in any case, this doesn’t necessarily make it a novel. This was characteristic of all polemic; for example, Tacitus, the Roman historian and senator, if anybody in antiquity was a historian, it was Tacitus. But you see how Tacitus treated Nero and Domitian; anything bad that was rumored about the two ended up in Tacitus’ work. So, people write from given perspectives. Pervo sites rowdy mobs; those appear in novels, but they also appear all over the place in ancient historiography. There were a lot of rowdy mobs in antiquity and we have them in historical works no less than we have them in novels. Sometimes, he appears to lead Christian acts, the acts of Paul in Thecla, the acts of Peter, the acts of John which is my personal favorite. But that is derivative from the acts of Luke. Virtually everyone agrees that Luke’s acts are earlier. So we can’t really read the later ones into that. In fact, those later ones come from the Haiti of novels, the late second and early third centuries. Richard Pervo, himself, doesn’t date the Gospel of Luke that late. Moreover, ancient novels were usually romances. Looking at the later acts, like the acts of Paul in Thecla, the major female character there leads her husband to become celebrant. But ancient novels were usually romances.
They were only extremely and rarely about historical characters. There are a few of them: Alexandra of Syopedia is one from an earlier period and from a later period, we have an Alexandra romance. That was written about somebody that lived five hundred years earlier. It is not dependent on historical information. But only rarely were they about historical characters and never about any recent characters. When you are writing about recent characters; people just didn’t like novels about recent characters. So, you would not have a novel about Jesus in the 1st century nor would you have a novel about Paul from the 1st century in contrast to having history and biography where history was considers best written by eyewitnesses or contemporaries. Not all of them were written that way but history could be written about recent characters, but novels were not. Novels would not include the vast correspondences with history that we find in the Book of Acts. Seriously, these are different genres; fictionalizing in narratives was limited to pails and novels. That was criticized in historians; they were not allowed to do that. So, Lucian Polybius when he was criticizing Timaeus, slammed those who had a lot of error, even though some today would say that Timaeus wasn’t that bad a historian of which Polybius accused him of being. Polybius may have been trying to get rid of some of his competition. But in any case, that was criticized in historical works. Furthermore, you don’t have novels of historical prologue and historical preface like you do in Luke 1:1-4 or the use of sources the way we have here. I know of one novel, Apuleius Metamorphoses, the only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety. This seemed to have recycled an earlier story line. But that is the one example I know of using sources. It was very freely rewritten and obviously a novel and not a historical work in contrast to what we have in Acts. With Luke drawing on a range of sources, he seems to be very careful in the way he puts his sources together. You can see this using the synopsis of the Gospels. If you made a synopsis of other ancient biographies, you would see that the synoptic Gospels are actually fairly close to one another by ancient standards suggesting that they really did intend to draw on historical information.
In terms of Historical Preface, novels didn’t have those. Sometimes scholars cite an exception to this, a novel by Wongus. But if you read the preface to that novel, it is not a historical preface at all. It says, ‘this is how I made the story up’; so, they are very different genres. Richard Pervo has also pointed out that you had many adventures as in novels. Well, you also have adventures in histories. Just read Josephus autobiography; it is certainly full of adventure and his war or the Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War; obviously there are adventures there because it is writing about war. Now, admittedly, when I first tried reading this, I didn’t find it interesting as I do now. Histories could also include interesting adventures. Maximus of Tyre says that histories are pleasurable and could even be read at banquets in lieu of other forms of entertainment. This would be especially true in popular historiography and this is where Pervo has a valuable insight. It is written in a more adventurous way with less tedious details than what you have in the elite historiographies. Historical monographs even had plots, they had a common theme, a common story that they were telling. Aristotle talked about the value of plots for any kind of narrative. This interest in adventure was a trait of all ancient literary narratives, although you find it more in some kinds than in others. But how much should there have been in Acts and recounting Paul’s adventures? If you read 2 Corinthians 11; if anything Luke tones down Paul’s adventures. Paul had a whole lot more than Luke uses space to account for. One of the key adventures in the Book of Acts, Paul is let down from a wall to escape. Paul mentions that in 2 Corinthians 11 and he mentions ship wrecks that don’t appear in Acts. Acts recounts on a ship wreck later than 2 Corinthians was written. But Paul talks about being ship wrecked multiple times. He talks about being beaten in synagogues multiple times and beaten with rods, even though Acts only narrates one of those. So Acts is not accentuating Paul’s adventures; if anything, it is accounting for less of them. Although it accounts for some in greater detail than Paul would have reason to do.
Richard Pervo talks about heroes like in Hellenist novels, but you also have a hero in positive biographies. Biographies could be positive or negative; usually they were mixed with both positive and negative features. But if you were writing about somebody you really respected, like when Tacitus writes about his father in law, Grira; it was very positive. But you often had a hero; you certainly had a protagonist in many biographies. There is a useful element in what Richard Pervo has pointed out; Luke uses interesting story telling techniques. But you can use similar narrative technique in historiography, especially the popular level. My wife was a war refugee for eighteen months. We have written a book on that, which isn’t out yet, but it has a lot of adventure, a lot of action and some romance, but none of it is fictitious. For the sake of space, there were a few points where I blended points together. That was just a few points. These things were taken directly from her journal and from my journal. These were actual events, but I left out many other things that were in the journal out in order to focus on things that readers would be more interested in. My journals for some of that period could fill up two file cabinet drawers. The book was supposed to be small so it could be sold cheaply as that was what the publisher asked for. So, I was able to select the information I wanted to enter into it based on interest. But that doesn’t make it a novel; it is still biography and historically true. But the interest shaped the way it was written. That was also true in antiquity as it is true today. I could have written it in a much less popular historiographical style. We had all the dates from the journals.
b. Acts as an Epic
Others have suggested that the Book of Acts is an Epic. Narrian Bonce suggested that it is a prose epic. The problem with comparing Acts to a prose epic is that such a genre didn’t exist then. Epics were written in poetry, not in prose, and you don’t have much of Luke and Acts in Greek before you see that as in English and so Acts is not written in poetic form. It is written in prose. Also, epics normally dealt with the distant past; well, Acts is dealing with the recent past; recent generations. Distance pasts would be centuries earlier, which were often legends and something pure myths. The epics in the Roman Empire; later in the 1st century, you do have some more recent wars, even civil wars. You have Lukan, for example, putting Ward into poetic form and then making it like an epic with exaggerated features with a giant war goddess standing above the army etc. But Acts is nothing like that. It isn’t written in poetic form. There is a possibly useful element in Bonce’s argument; Acts is a foundation story. It may not be about the distant past, but it is talking about the legacy that was left by these first apostolic leaders. So, it is not to say that we can’t learn something from that, but prose epic just didn’t exist.
c. Acts as a Biography
The closes parallel would be ‘Lives of the Sophists’ a book by a writer called Eunapius, a collection of the biographies of 23 philosophers and sophists. These are biographies of a number of people strung together. You also have parallel lives with multiple volumes where one volume deals with one figure and another volume deals with another figure. You would compare these lives with one another. So, you have Jesus, Peter and Paul; but what do you do with Acts 6-8 which focus on Stephen, the martyr and then Acts 9-12 which goes back and forth between Peter and Paul. So, I have argued that it is really a biographical approach to history. History dealt with people’s acts. You have some of this with biographies but you also have some of it with histories. The exception would be Pseudo Callisthenes written at least five hundred years after Alexander the Great.
So, the majority view of scholars today is that Acts is a historiography of some sort. That was held by Debelius, Cadbury, Ecker Crewmocker, Luke T. Johnson, by Martin Hengel; history could get some details wrong, yet it still could convey historical events as opposed to a novel where a person just made everything up. The majority of scholars today realize that Luke is writing a historiography. One reason is that Luke includes set speeches which appear very often in ancient historiography. This is a characteristic of historiography. When Josephus rewrites parts of the Old Testament in his antiquities, he even adds in speeches to make it better historiography. Sometimes, he makes them Greco-Roman speeches; he was very interested in rhetorical historiography. You have these set speeches; you have discourse; you have people talking in novels but it is not the same as having set speeches so dominant in historiography. They are shorter in Acts because the book is shorter. The majority of scholars see the preface of Luke 1:1-4 as a historical preface. Loveday Alexander argued at length; well, this looked more like the kind of prefaces that you have in scientific treatises. But when she was critiqued by people who said that Luke wasn’t a scientific treatise, she responded, ‘I never said that it was a scientific treatise,’ I agreed that it is a work of ancient historiography but of the more scientific kind, the kind that may have been of a physician that someone like that would write. We have massive correspondences with known data. Novelists didn’t care about that; they didn’t go back and research things, even when they were writing them about historical characters. Occasionally, Luke includes synchronization which was more characteristic of a more elite historiographer. Luke couldn’t have that much synchronization with external history because for the most part, the reports he got didn’t tell him when things happened. Luke 2:1-2 and Luke 3:1-2 name the rulers at the time these events were happenings. Acts 18:12 mentions Gallio the proconsul of Achaia; even Acts 11:28 talks about the famine period of Claudius. Also, there is a focus on events and you see that in the preface where it says, ‘now concerning the things that was fulfilled among us.’ The alternative to this is historical novels which are quiet rare. Edward Meyer, perhaps the 20th century most famous historian of Greco-Roman antiquity concluded that Luke was a great historian and that Acts, in spite of its more restricted content bears the same character as the greatest historians of old, Polybius, Livy and many others. Personally, I wouldn’t put Luke in the same category as Polybius or Livy; I don’t think he would have wanted to have written as long as they wrote. But the point is Luke was writing historiography.
There were different kinds of sources that we might group together as history: genealogy, infographic, and local history; usually we are talking about history proper which dealt with historical events and it was in narrative form unlike annuals. When I say historical events, unlike mythography which could be recycled myths; some people did use sources for that, but this was many centuries earlier. Some people have said that this is history proper, but what kind of history? Is it institutional history; writing the institution of the early church? Is it political history; viewing the church as a kind of political entity? Is it philosophic biographic history; focusing on teachers or sages? Is it ethnographic, the history of people? You have that sometimes in antiquity as well. We can draw insights from each of these kinds, but most people who wrote historical monographs weren’t trying to shove it into one category. These are kind of artificial categories that we come up with. None of these have actually caught on and commanded a consensus among scholars. In terms of ethnographical history; when people did write ethnographical history, the history of the people, it was often a minority group who felt marginalized by the way history was normally written by the Greeks who pioneered the major form of historiography used in the Roman Empire. Greeks viewed other people through a Greek lens. They were ethnocentric as people usually are and so they interested in things from a Greek view. Many of them looked down on other civilizations. So you have the histories showing that the Babylonians had a noble history. There was the Egyptiac showing that Egyptians had a noble history. And Josephus does that to some extent with his Jewish antiquities to show that the Jewish people had a noble history; a history that went back far earlier than Greek civilization. He was writing an apologetic.
b. Driving Forces behind Historiography
And that brings us to another way of viewing Acts; that is by motive. You can have different topics, but what is the motive, what are the driving forces behind writing a historiography? Well, one possible motive for Luke and Acts is also one that we find for these ethnographic historiographies. These ethnographic histories that were written about a particular people, a minority group within or outlined by the Roman Empire. Gregory Sterling, the dean at Yale Divinity School, has argued very strongly and convincingly, based on ancient Jewish historiography that much of this was written with an apologetic emphasis. And I think the parallels with Acts are very informative. So, the Jewish people weren’t responsible for these riots that took place, etc. These perspectives are not mutually exclusive; you can classify by topic, by motive or by form and form is a monograph. It is not a multi-volume history. Others have argued that it is a historical monograph. But, like Richard Pervo points out, it in a popular level; it is not on the elite level. Sometimes with the Gospels, there was a period when the people were speaking of the Gospels as high level elite literature as opposed to folk literature. Well, certainly, Luke and Acts are not elite, but neither is it folk literature. It is not something like the life of Aesop. You have got to focus on an intriguing narrative. But it is none the less, history for that. Today, it depends on where you are in the world, what things will appeal to you. Some of the things that I’ve appreciated, like the Hiding Place, the Cross and the Switchblade and Impossible Love and other things like this. You can have works that are generally true but they are told in a popular level way. And I think that is what we have with the Book of Acts.
c. Apologetic Ethnography
In this case in a monograph form; Greeks tend to caricature others. So other often responds by producing works that showed their noble history. Josephus does that in trying to show Judaism as a legal religion. It wasn’t officially a legal religion but it didn’t need to be; its antiquity and precedence of toleration that Josephus brings out and likes to emphasize opposed to other things that he doesn’t mention. In any case, he appeals to precedence toleration, just like Acts does. He shows that the church has an ancient history, an ancient heritage going far back; you can see that Jesus is embedded in the history of Israel. There are all these allusions to Zechariah and Elizabeth going all the way back to Abraham and Sara and so many other things. So his story embeds the history of the church and the ancient story of Israel. He also is full of favorable precedence that the church shouldn’t be persecuted and its mission should not be silence because this is not something against Roman law. With Pilate, Jesus was really innocent; Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Porcius Festus; Felix just kept Paul in jail because he wanted a bribe, etc. So Acts is doing something like Josephus was doing with an apologetic ethnographic history, not just ethnographic, a part from apologetics. He is not actually writing a history of the church, he is writing a history of the mission of the church. He is not even writing the Acts of the Apostles as he doesn’t deal much with most of the apostles. You have Peter, John and Paul and then James, the Lord’s brother who wasn’t one of the twelve.
d. Rhetorical Sophistication
You have rhetorical sophistication in some ancient historiographies. That was demanded by elites and especially in the heyday of the second sophistic and afterwards by the 2nd century and later where you had people who looked down on the New Testament because it wasn’t rhetorical sophisticate enough. They certainly looked down even more on the Old Testament because it wasn’t sophisticated by Greek rhetorical standards. These historians allowed adjustments of detail to make the narrative cohesive. They also emphasized vividness. One of the ways they did this was through an exercise called ecphrasis where they would describe something in detail; it goes back to Homer who was sort of the rhetorical canon of the Greeks. It is just like the Old Testament was the canon of the Jewish people and Christianity. This involved elaboration of every detail and was common among rhetorically oriented historians; Luke lacked this, he could have described the pain of Paul and Silas’ wounds as they left Philippi. He could have described the hundred petal flowers that the hills around Philippi were famous for. He could have described the gold mines near Philippi. He could have described the ancient lion statue that was outside on the road that they undoubtedly passed by. Luke doesn’t describe any of these things; that is not his interest. Luke is writing on a more popular level than that. It is fairly popular but a higher literary level than Mark; literate but not as sophisticated as Paul; not elite but closer to the elite than he was to the Papyri.
e. Rhetoric and Speeches
Rhetoric was important in history, especially for the elite, less so for Luke. You see cohesiveness in the narrative; it is a whole story which fits together, especially both books. Golder, Talbot and Tannihill all emphasize this. Golder over did the parallels in the 1960’s, but Talbot and Tannihill have done it from a much more sober literary narrative critical perspective. We see patterns in Luke and Acts which don’t mean that it is not historical; Historians believe that providence created these patterns. They would highlight things that looked like parallels to them. You have this in others; Josephus for example; for the Roman Historian Appian, it wasn’t uncommon to believe that providence created these patterns. So, they weren’t inventing the details in those cases. Putock tells us that he looked for existing parallels when he wrote his Parallel Lives. He didn’t obliterate the differences in doing so. In biography, you could have an element of praise and blame, but according to Polybius, it had to be assigned according to judge merit; that is, you couldn’t just make up stories, you had to use the stories that were actually there in assigning praise and blame. This would be distinct from a funeral speech where you just say nice things about the person. Some histories were sensationalistic, although Polybius attacked this. An example where Polybius sites is where historians played on Pappus. What he is talking about is when a city is conquered and people are being led out as slaves; he says that this historian is a bad historian because he describes how all the women were weeping. Well, my guess is that as they were being led out as slaves, they probably were lamenting and weeping. What Polybius doesn’t like is focusing on that, but not all historians agreed with him. Luke has some pathos (appeal to emotion), but he doesn’t have much. In fact, he may not have as much as Tacitus and the pathos that he has is not like invented events, it is like people weeping as Paul leaves, showing how much love they have for Paul.
Elite historians would elaborate on scenes which isn’t in Luke and Acts. Josephus does that; those kinds of things were considered necessary for a book to sell. But on a more popular level, they weren’t interested in these elite rhetorical techniques but they were interested in good story telling. You can do that without invented things. Did historians have ancient biases; yes, of course. They had certain tendencies, certain perspectives, but not necessarily negative, but they had certain perspectives. Modern historians have the same thing; post-modernist like to point this out – everybody writes from a perspective which post-modernists say that doesn’t justify distorting things. You can contrast biographies on Lincoln or Churchill; some are more positive and some are more negative. There can also be an explicit focus; you can write on church history which doesn’t mean that you are making things up. It means that your focus is on the history of the church. Although western historians tended to focus on western church history and more recently scholars wondered about the church in East Africa, Asia and other places. So there was a certain perspective from which people were writing; there were certain interest that dictated what they primarily covered. There is church history, political history, women’s history and so your interest will always dictate your focus, but that doesn’t mean that it is not history. But this was more overt in antiquity; sometimes they would give explicit narratives on why people did what they did. Often, you would have very clear nationalistic biases. You would have a lot of people writing from a very pro-Roman point of view. That may be why those histories have survived. Plutarch really didn’t like Herodotus; he had an whole essay on the Malice of Herodotus or on the Malignity of Herodotus; Herodotus had said something negative about Boeotia, the region Plutarch was from. Plutarch said that Herodotus was malicious. So, people had various nationalistic biases. Although, sometimes, some of them wrote so objectively, so much so that historians today debate which side they were really on.
Responsible historians believed that you just didn’t put the history out there and let people do what they want with it, but you gave them some directions. They knew that people were going to use these historical examples in speeches, political arguments, etc. So, the question was, if people were going to use these, we want to make sure they use them correctly. Often, at the beginning of their work, they would say, ‘I’m writing this to provide this for the purpose of moral examples so you can look for good and bad examples from the past when they would try to persuade people in the present. They didn’t always tell you which examples were good and which were bad, as that sometimes was taken for granted in the culture. But you also have that in the Gospels; you have certain morals in the Book of Acts communicated by the behavior of the people. You have certain groups that are focused on positively or negatively. The selection of facts for a purpose is not the same as fabricating facts. It is the way history is written and certainly the way ancient historiography was written.
f. Theological Perspectives
These also appeared. Historians looked for the divine hand in history. They looked for patterns in history in parallels and that is not just Greek historians. Just look at 1 Samuel 1 and you have the comparison between Hanna and Eli. In the next chapter, you have the comparison between Samuel and Eli’s son and then between Saul and David. That was characteristic of a lot of the way historiography was written and it was formalized in Greek rhetoric. In regards to divine providence, ancient histories looked for this in history and mentioned that this was done by providence. Jewish writers in updating Biblical history, like the Book of Jubilees, has a particular theological emphasis, even though Jubilees sticks fairly close to the information we have in Genesis augmented with some subsequent Jewish tradition. Even Josephus used proper biographic narration techniques.
What about accuracy in ancient historiography? Tacitus and Polybius were more accurate than Herodotus, Thucydides, or Plutarch. Josephus is unreliable on population estimates and distances. But then again, he probably didn’t count the people, nor do we expect that he paced out the distances from one place to another. He didn’t actually measure them. But smaller things that he could measure, like monuments and pillars, the architecture within the harbor at Caesarea. He was often very precise with those measurements. He was reliable on most architectural data. Josephus was the most careful of ancient historians but sometime his information was so precise that archeologists are astonished by it. Historians had a wide degree of latitude on details. They had to get the bulk of the story correct, so far as the sources were accurate. They used the criterion of coherence with historical setting. They preferred writing closer in time to the events, especially considering the eyewitnesses they consulted. Their goal was objectivity and they could be very critical in how they handled their data. At one point, Thucydides perhaps, who criticizes the stories of the great Akeyan Empire, the stories you have in Homer because if you go back to Messenia, there are just ruins there and it doesn’t look as if it was a very large place. Well, excavations have shown it to be larger than thought. But he was being a critical historian. He was trying to look at the data available to him. Today we have more data available to us and some of the things that they presupposed actually do go back to some information than maybe Thucydides even thought.
Objectivity was the goal and sometimes it was achieved to such a degree that Salius for example revealed this in his historical monograph. Chronology was not always available. You had chronology used in Polybius and Thucydides and Tacitus, because they had military sources available to them; annals that were written because that were the kind of things they were writing about. You don’t have that with oral sources; people are not always going to be able to tell what dates things happened. You may not always have things in precise sequence even and in biographies, it wasn’t expected. Within historiography, you were to get it as close as possible. But even there, sometimes that had to make compromises because as you follow something geographically from one year to the next; even if other events are happenings before these later events at a site or do you switch over to here because it happened the same year and then switch back geographically? Different histories had different techniques on that and some of the others criticized those techniques.
Rarely did historians have omniscient narrators. Usually they cited various sources sometimes only giving you the names of a few of them. They didn’t always site the varying sources but they did site them, especially when they disagreed. So when you are talking about recent sources, they were less likely to name their sources because they didn’t have so much disagreement among them. In the case of Arrian, he writes a much respected biography of Alexander the Great. But Arrian is writing toward the end of the first, early 2nd century and Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. So, centuries have passed but in this case Arrian had a lot of works that have been lost to us today. He had a number of early works about Alexander the Great and he could draw on those. So scholars really respected this as he had early sources to work with; but sometimes those sources contradicted one another which forced him to state the different views. Normally if you are writing in the 1st or 2nd generation, you don’t have as much contradiction among the witnesses.
But with the case of Luke; well, Luke was meticulously careful with the sources that were available to him in the Gospels; you see this in comparing Luke and Mark. My observation from working through ancient histories is that ancient histories covering the period retold the same events. They often filled in detailed scenes where they lacked access to information, especially where you have private scenes where none of the people from it survived. Josephus sometimes does that and even Tacitus on occasion. But the subject had to be correct, but they rounded out scenes for good story telling. So we have some dangers in the way people approach ancient historiography. One is to assume that ancient historiography is the same as modern historiography. So you judge it by modern rules; you are judging ancient historiography by a genre that technically didn’t even exist, namely modern historiography. So you have ultra conservatives and some skeptics complaining and deciding that because of our very strict standards we should discount this or that because it seems unreliable. But ancient historians normally valued accuracy and substance and events but not necessarily flushed out details like, for example, conversation. The other danger is, assuming that ancient historiography had nothing to do with historical information, modern historiography did develop from ancient historiography; many of the rules used today were composed by Polybius who wrote before the New Testament was written. So trying to separate ancient historiography from historical information and say well that it is virtually the same as a novel; that is throwing everything out the window and not keeping anything.
Novels and history were quiet distinct genres in antiquity. Lukean pointed out that good biographers avoid flattery and falsifying events and only bad historians invent data. Plenty the Younger; both of these writing in the 2nd century, although Plenty the Younger writes earlier than the second century. Plenty the Younger says what is distinctive about history is its concern for accurate facts. Also he says that history’s primary goal is truth and accuracy, not rhetorical. Sometimes people will say, of course historians will tell you that they wanted to write accurately but that was just a convention, they really didn’t mean it. Plenty is not a historian, but instead he was an orator and a statesman. But he recognizes that history had to be accurate and you could use rhetoric provided your basics were factual. He writes to his friends, Tacitus and Suetonius both of which were historians but Suetonius was more a biographer. But he write both to Tacitus and Suetonius and says, ‘I know you are writing a history of the Roman Empire and I want to make sure you don’t leave out an import prosecution; an important case that I prosecuted. We don’t know if Tacitus listened to him or not because that particular part of Tacitus is missing. But it was barely worth recounting by the standards Tacitus normally used. However, what Plenty about only included the exact truth and this is the exact truth. He also gave an account from his father’s uncle who died in the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. He wrote natural history and was very interested in lot of information about nature, etc. While everybody else was fleeing Pompey, he wanted to go find out what was going on there. There were survivors that were able to share information about what happened. Plenty the Younger provides that information. Aristotle was a tutor of Alexander the Great, a student of Plato long before that. Aristotle, the difference between poetry and history is not the form, because one could write history in verse. History must deal with what happened, not with what might happen. History deals with real events. Critical historiography contrary to modern ethnocentric bias, ancients did practice critical historiography; much of the modern practice was from Polybius as he was critiquing Timaeus, probably because Timaeus was a rival and he wanted his own history to survive.
Historians would often questions their resources and examine writer’s biases. They tested consistency with geographical ruins, internal consistency, etc. The sources they preferred were the earlier sources, nearest the events, especially eyewitnesses. They preferred those who were least apt to be bias. They compared multiple sources. In other words, ancient historians did care about getting the facts correct. Even Josephus; he rewrites Biblical narratives and creates new speeches for the narratives. He elaborates rhetorically; he admits the golden calf. You can understand some apologetics in regards to the golden calf. He retains the basic substance of the Biblical stories and again in his own period, archeology confirms them in great detail. So, okay, Josephus wasn’t the most accurate historian; he was one of the more careless of them and yet, we get so much information from Josephus. If you have to take his word for it or assume that he is wrong, I would be more apt to take his word for it unless I have good reason not to. Most importantly, historians on ancient events admitted that much of the ancient past were shrouded in fiction. But when historians were writing about recent events, they valued eyewitness testimonies; they gather oral reports, just like Luke talks about eyewitnesses in Luke 1:2. Is Acts entertaining? Yes, but historians sought to write in entertaining ways. The difference, again, between novels and history, was not one sought to entertain, but that one also sought to inform. Ancients believed that one could use truth to teach moral lessons and editing as well.
To test Luke’s own case, what was Luke’s method? Well, Luke actually makes that available to us in his preface to his first volume and we can test Luke by comparing what he does with Mark. So, Luke’s method in his preface; a preface was supposed to announce what was to follow. Luke’s promise content, Luke 1:1-3 speaks of an orderly narrative of the things fulfilled among us. He writes to confirm what Theophilus had learned about such events. So, what Luke is telling us, he is going to be writing about historical information and he is going to be writing about it to confirm things that Theophilus already knew about. This preface tells us a lot about the resources available to Luke; both written and oral sources going back to eyewitnesses. Luke having thorough knowledge in confirming this with his own investigation; Luke just couldn’t be making things up, certainly not on a very large level since the material was also known in the early church. He was simply confirming what members of his audience already knew.