Luke-Acts frequently portrays the extension of Roman power into the life of Jesus and the early church, and the author has long been regarded as mounting a defense of the church before Rome. As interest in the Roman political context of Christian origins has risen scholars have offered a variety of pro- and anti-Roman readings.
This dissertation contributes to the discussion by focusing on one facet of Luke’s politics: his portrayal of Roman provincial governors. Luke’s accounts of these Roman officials’ interactions with Jesus (Pilate) and Paul (Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, and Festus) are analyzed using a narrative-rhetorical approach that stresses the probable impact of the narrative on its original late-first-century Christian audience. In order to better evaluate the significance of various aspects of Luke’s characterizations for such an audience, the dissertation examines several other narratives from the first century that feature Roman governors as prominent characters. Narratives clearly intended to portray a governor favorably (Tacitus, Agricola) or unfavorably (Philo, Against Flaccus) are examined first, followed by the characterization of governors in Josephus’ historical works, The Judean War and Judean Antiquities.
In the context of these works Luke’s portrayals of Roman governors emerge as varied, nuanced and congruent with literary expectations of the early empire. Even so, the governors in Luke-Acts largely serve a common rhetorical goal signaled by Pilate: they demonstrate that Roman officials themselves acknowledged that Jesus and Paul (and by extension their disciples) were innocent of any Roman charges.