A friend of mine recommended this book for studying the historical situation of Acts: Colin J. Hemer’s The Book of Acts in the Setting of Helenistic History (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990). Hemer had just finished the manuscript of this book before he died in 1987; thankfully Conrad Gempf and others edited it and made sure it was published. In case you were wondering, Hemer also wrote an outstanding commentary on the letters to the seven churches of Revelation.
I don’t have the time and space to give a detailed review of the book here, but I do want to point out a few things to give you an idea what Hemer covered in this book. (By the way, Hemer’s style, scholarship, and clarity reminds me of F.F. Bruce.)
One thing Hemer does well in this book is discuss the historicity of Acts in light of recent scholarship (critical and non-critical). In a level-headed manner, he wrestles with the different scholarly approaches to the book of Acts (volume II of Luke’s writing). Here are the different topics that Hemer covers:
Acts and Historicity, the relationship of Luke – Acts, Ancient Historiagraphy (how the ancients wrote history), Types of Knowledge in Acts (common knowledge, learned knowledge, etc.), Historical evidence in Acts (including idioms, cultural features, names, titles, locations, etc.), the relationship of Acts and the NT Epistles (focusing specifically on Galatians), the “We” Passages of Acts, and the Date of Acts.
The book also contains indexes – Scripture, modern authors, places, and subjects. Most of the books I read either have no index(es) or brief ones. Hemer’s book, however, has exhaustive indexes which make the book easy to use for future study. The structure of the book is also straightforward so it isn’t difficult to read and follow. Any student of the NT should easily be able to read it with profit.
By the way, Eisenbrauns nicely put Hemer’s table of contents on their website (here). Here’s the description of the book from that website:
The Acts of the Apostles is the New Testament book that contains the most obvious ties to its cultural and historical milieu. Yet, until very recently, the trend has been for 20th-century authors to bypass discussion of the relation of Acts to the world and history around it. In this book, Colin Hemer examines various strands of interlocking data, ranging from the epistles of Paul to records of the corn fleet that sailed from Alexandria. The wealth of new literary, epigraphic, and papyrological data brings fresh light to numerous details as well as to the central question of Luke’s conception of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. The result is a broader understanding of the Hellenistic world in general and a greater appreciation for Acts as a coherent and consistent product of its day.
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