"And so the speeches of Acts, which must date well before any of our Gospels, and almost certainly predate the writings of Paul himself..." Bart Ehrman
Bart Ehrman is a scholar I admire. I've read everything from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to Forged. But now in the wake of Did Jesus Exist? I'm puzzled.
Take for example, Ehrman's insistence that the speeches in Acts reflect very early sources.
Ehrman concedes that these speeches were "placed on the lips of the apostles at key moments of the narrative." He notes that "it was customary for historical writers to invent the speeches of their main characters," and that "historians came up with speeches that seemed appropriate for the occasion."
But then he continues: "But the speeches in Acts are particularly notable because they are, in many instances, based not on Luke's fertile imagination but on oral traditions." (p.109)
"The reason for thinking so is that portions of these speeches represent theological views that do not mesh well with the views of Luke himself, as these can be ascertained through a careful reading of his two-volume work." He goes on to state that these speeches contain preliterary traditions.
All of this assumes that Luke-Acts in its present form is a literary unit. We know, however, that Marcion used a much briefer form of Luke, and that Acts is attested later than Luke.
The usual explanation for the difference between Marcion's Luke and the expanded canonical version is that Marcion took a pair of scissors to it in order to make it servicable to his views. Evidence? None. Just as likely, Luke was padded out later in an edition that made it more acceptable for emerging orthodoxy.
Even if preliterary traditions were used when crafting the speeches of Acts, it's quite a stretch from there to asserting that they form a reliable, independent source for the existence of an historical apocalyptic prophet named Jesus. Here at least, Ehrman's line of reasoning seems tenuous.
From there Ehrman leaps all over the place. On page 141 we hear that these speeches contain material that predate Paul's letters, on page 172 that the speeches preserve very primitive traditions that appear to date from the earliest years, on page 190 that they long predate the Gospels. In none of these examples can I find supporting references.
If I had to choose, I'd still say the weight of the evidence supports the apocalyptic prophet reconstruction. But that's what it is, a reconstruction, and one that's not universally accepted - witness the cynic sage of the Jesus Seminar or Richard Horsley's political reading.
Given what we know about the dating and accuracy issues with Acts, this is one line of argument that seems a tad underwhelming. If we indeed hit solid ground in the speeches - the speeches that, if running true to form "were placed on the lips of the apostles", then that would be about the only place in Acts where we do!
"Acts is a beautiful house that readers may happily admire, but it is not a home in which the historian can responsibly live." Richard Pervo.
FWIW, some of the texts - none by mythicists! - that I think throw some real light on the nature of Acts are:
John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, SCM, 1987 ed.
Mikeal Parsons & Richard Pervo, Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts, Fortress, 1993.
Joseph B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
Richard Pervo, The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling It's Story, Polebridge, 2008.
Pervo's The Mystery of Acts is a true mythbuster, and pulls no punches.