- Ritual Water, Ritual Spirit: An Analysis of the Timing, Mechanism, and Manifestation of Spirit-Reception in Luke-Acts by David J. McCollough
Literary analysis of early Christian writings continues to flourish. This monograph is the fruit of PhD research at the London School of Theology. McCollough focuses on Luke-Acts and its baptism rituals, specifically on Jesus’s own baptism, Pentecost, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, the gentiles at Cornelius’s house in Caesarea, and the “disciples” whom Paul encounters at Ephesus. By applying the tools of discourse analysis, literary theory and narratology to the text, McCollough seeks “to grasp Luke’s understanding of timing, mechanism, and manifestation with regard to Spirit-reception” (4). In doing so he draws on the idea of “presupposition pools/entity representations (ERs),” which are “the mental constructs developed sequentially through the text as the reader … accumulates data about characters, places, circumstances, etc.” (3). While one cannot know for certain what foreknowledge the reader brings to the reading of a work such as Luke-Acts, one can follow the development of ERs as one reads sequentially through the text (i.e., allowing earlier episodes to influence the interpretation of later ones, but not vice versa, except in the case of a re-reader!). Thus McCollough sticks admirably close to the text of Luke-Acts.
The first chapter is the requisite Forschungsgeschichte (5–42), in which McCollough simply describes 23 works on “the ritual dynamics of Christian initiation” in Luke-Acts (5). The review felicitously covers contributions to the question from Hermann Gunkel (1888) to Heidrun [End Page 544] Gunkel (2015)! He summarises: “The key issues for this book regard how the Spirit is related to faith and rituals of initiation, and whether the Spirit is in any way evidenced during those rituals” (41). The second chapter discusses method (43–80). McCollough differentiates between Theophilus and the implied reader (48–50), as “Luke and Acts need never have been read together by actual readers for us to observe that Luke’s implied reader reads them together” (53). He explains ERs and Focalization (62–64), Type Scenes (67–71) and the ancient category of Amplification (71–73). Importantly, he discounts simple statistics as providing insight into an author’s viewpoint without regard to sequence, focus and style (79).
It is thus only after 80 pages that one reaches discussion of the actual texts in question. The first is Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan (82–91). Here McCollough asks, “whether Jesus’ Jordan experience is archetypal of Christian initiatory experience and, if it is, whether it has any bearing upon the implied reader’s understanding of later initiation scenes in Luke-Acts” (81). In doing so, however, he risks falling for the old trap of nonsequential reading in claiming, “Unique as Luke portrayed him, he is not the only one who can call God Father or pray and receive the Spirit” (85); surely it is too early to tell! In McCollough’s close reading of the text he notes, “For Jesus, the Spirit is not received in water, but in prayer” (86). The text of Luke (rather than those of Matthew and Mark) allows for Jesus to be praying and receiving the spirit in dove-like form while still in the water. Thus, “Luke tied the Spirit to prayer, not immersion” (91). The only other section from Luke that comes under discussion is Luke 11:13. McCollough assumes (based oddly on Luke 7:29–30) that the disciples have been baptised but will not receive the spirit until they pray (93–94).
The fourth chapter concerns Pentecost and xenolalia (97–136). McCollough’s primary observation here is that the crowd is portrayed as inquisitive, yet does not ask about the wind and fire; the reader therefore understands that the crowd does not notice these. He drives this point home (110, 114, 117). What he wants to know, however, is whether xenolalia is the promise of the spirit or...