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123 7 What Is to Prevent Me? Ambiguity, Acceptance, and the Ethiopian Eunuch In the previous three chapters the Abrahamic covenant was front and center. The bent woman and Zacchaeus were a daughter and a son of Abraham, respectively. In the course of explaining the significance of the lame man’s healing,Peter quotes the Abrahamic blessing (Acts 3:25; cf. Gen. 12:2–3, 22:18, 26:4). Although explicit reference to Abraham is missing in Acts 8:26–40,the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is the logical conclusion to Luke’s interest in physiognomy and the Abrahamic covenant: a Gentile who is both an Ethiopian and a eunuch is converted to Christianity.The promise that Abraham’s “seed” would be a blessing to all the nations (or Gentiles) is now fulfilled. Thus the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts is not so much the beginning of the Gentile mission per se as it is the culmination of Luke’s argument that those who are physically “defective”by the prevailing cultural standards are in no way excluded from the body of the new Abrahamic community. This explains why the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is not cited subsequently in Acts. The Gentile mission per se commences with the story of Cornelius (Acts 10–11), and to that event the narrative returns when the question of the Gentiles emerges with full Parsons_LukeActs_JDE_djm.indd 123 9/15/06 1:27:36 PM 124 Body and Character in Luke and Acts force in Acts 15. Luke’s interest in the Ethiopian eunuch has less to do with a proleptic fulfillment of Jesus’command to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth”(though this is not entirely missing) than with the inclusion into the eschatological community of those who might otherwise be excluded because of their physical characteristics. Both the eunuch’s place of origin and his physical condition take on added meaning when seen through the lens of physiognomy. In all four of these scenes (bent woman, Zacchaeus, lame man, and Ethiopian eunuch), physiognomic conventions are introduced only to be overturned. Luke does not allow these assumptions to stand unchallenged . In challenging them, he seeks to shape his audience with regard not only to their assessment of these specific stories but also to their moral character and identity. How did Luke learn to write this way and what kind of character was he seeking to form in his audience? According to Raffaella Cribiore, education in the ancient world, not unlike today in many quarters, “was based on the transmission of an established body of knowledge, about which there was wide consensus.” The transmission of traditional values included also the formation of the moral character of students (or audience). Theon of Alexandria confirms this point several times: “Surely the exercise in the form of the khreia (or anecdote) not only creates a certain faculty of speech but also good character [ethos], while we are being exercised in the moral sayings of the wise” (60.18; Kennedy, 4; see also 71.6; 78.9).Thus, beyond acquiring facility in grammar and rhetoric, a fortunate byproduct of the rhetorical exercises from the teacher’s point of view was the shaping of moral habits that reflected the prevailing cultural values of the day.This cultural repertoire or literacy included the physiognomic consciousness. Through his rhetorical education Luke presumably learned ethos argumentation (e.g., how to shape the moral character of his audience). One aspect of moral formation, whether of the teacher’s students or the writer’s audience, was the use of physiognomic categories to describe, praise, condemn, or otherwise evaluate the moral character of a literary or historical figure or event, and thus to inculcate those values in the moral vision of the student or audience. . Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 8. . On this,seeTodd Penner,“Reconfiguring the Rhetorical Study of Acts: Reflections on the Method in and Learning of a Progymnastic Poetics,”Perspectives in Religious Studies 30 (2003): 425–39; esp.438: “A progymnastic poetics thus causes us to think much more seriously about ethos argumentation than we are wont to do.” Parsons_LukeActs_JDE_djm.indd 124 9/15/06 1:27:37 PM 125 What Is to Prevent Me? Physiognomic Methods Explained in the Handbooks In this text Luke employs aspects of all three methods of physiognomic analysis—what have been called the anatomical method, the zoological method, and the ethnographical method...


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