The Elusive Jesus of Luke-Acts in Its Ancient Mediterranean Literary Context

  • Justin Daneshmand

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the elusive Jesus of Luke-Acts in its ancient Mediterranean literary context and investigates the implications of this for Lukan composition and Christology. Scholars recognising characterisations or themes of elusiveness in biblical literature have addressed some Lukan instances, but without concentrating on Luke-Acts. Other studies have struggled to identify a suitable scheme for elusiveness data in ancient Mediterranean literature or New Testament Gospels. Previous studies offering christological and thematic explanations for Jesus' paradoxical presence and absence or 'secretive'/'mysterious' conduct, particularly the (so-called) 'Messiasgeheimnis' or alternative Geheimnis-theories (e.g., 'Leidensgeheimnis' in Luke), fail to account comprehensively for related motifs. Nevertheless, this thesis demonstrates how these and other relevant motifs, also pertaining to other characters or events, contribute to a portrayal of Jesus as an elusive figure and to a broader, more comprehensive and coherent thematic emphasis on elusiveness in Luke-Acts. Concentrated analysis is devoted to four episodes: Jesus eluding his parents during childhood (Luke 2:41-52); Jesus' Nazareth visit and escape (4:16-30); Jesus' (un)recognition and disappearance on the Emmaus road (24:13-35); and Jesus' differently perceived manifestation blinding Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-19a; 22:6-16; 26:12-18). In terms of other characters and events, this exploration involves accounts of Paul's escapes and survivals, incarceration deliverances of the disciples, apostolic pronouncements on dissidents, the Philip-eunuch story, and angelic activity. This reconceptualisation in terms of elusiveness offers a fresh perspective for reading Luke-Acts. By utilising an eclectic literary-critical methodology which incorporates aspects of text-centred and reader-oriented approaches, this thesis employs an ancient reader as a heuristic device to demonstrate a characterisation of the elusive Jesus and thematic elusiveness in Luke-Acts. An ancient Mediterranean 'extratextual repertoire' of literary elusiveness offers the type of data which this reader would have invoked for reading the four focal episodes. This extratextual data also illuminates elusive characters and themes in other literature, notably gods and aided mortals in Homeric epic (especially the Odyssey), Dionysus in Euripides' Bacchae, and Yahweh, other supramundane figures, and aided mortals in Jewish texts. As a result of considering Lukan depictions of Jesus' elusiveness in the light of ancient Mediterranean analogues, this project offers several new readings and expands or reinforces some readings less recognised in scholarship. In terms of Lukan composition, this thesis proposes that Jesus is characterised as an elusive figure which principally contributes to an elusiveness theme. This involves several motifs (including those related to Geheimnis-theories) and other elusive characters or events. This study highlights how Lukan elusiveness creates entertaining stories to maintain reader contemplation, inciting intrigue for continued reader engagement. This project also determines that Lukan depictions of elusiveness involve recognisably appropriated motifs and tropes rather than specific intertextual sources. Regarding Lukan Christology, elusiveness underscores commonly acknowledged Christologies (suffering and royal Davidic Messiah; Son of God) as well as less recognised or implicit Christologies (divine visitor; judge; Wisdom) and indicates more continuity of Jesus' pre- and post-mortem physical transience or transcendence than critics normally allow. Ultimately, Jesus' elusiveness consistently indicates his exceptionally theomorphic identity whilst maintaining a degree of ambiguity inherent in Lukan Christology.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Oakes (Supervisor) & Stephen Todd (Supervisor)


  • Divine Visitor
  • Divine Visitation
  • Xenic
  • Theoxenic
  • Theoxeny
  • Davidic Messiah
  • Suffering Secret
  • Divinity
  • Divine
  • Leidensgeheimnis
  • Son of God
  • Wisdom
  • Child Jesus
  • Damascus Road
  • Nazareth
  • Emmaus
  • Geheimnis-theories
  • Invisibility
  • Divine Sonship
  • Disappearance
  • Divine Concealment
  • Disappear
  • Divine judgment
  • Divine judgement
  • Polymorphic
  • Polymorphism
  • Divine Presence
  • Divine Absence
  • Divine Hiddenness
  • Euripides
  • Vanishing
  • Homer
  • Athene
  • Athena
  • Dionysus
  • Bacchae
  • Odyssey
  • Telemcheia
  • Supernatural Control
  • Vanish
  • Iliad
  • Messiasgeheimnis
  • New Testament
  • Messianic Secret
  • Messianic
  • Messiah
  • Christ
  • Jesus
  • Jesus Christ
  • Secrecy
  • Luke and Acts
  • Luke-Acts
  • Acts
  • Luke
  • Luke's Gospel
  • Gospel of Luke
  • Biblical Criticism
  • Biblical Studies
  • Bible
  • Classics
  • Old Testament
  • God
  • Yahweh
  • Christology
  • Deus absconditus
  • Angelomorphic
  • Yhwh
  • Theomorphic
  • Theomorphism
  • Lucan
  • Lukan
  • Jewish Literature
  • Greco-Roman Literature
  • Graeco-Roman Literature
  • Angelomorphism
  • Literary Criticism
  • Composition
  • literary-critical
  • Elusiveness
  • Elusive
  • reader-response
  • Narrative Criticism
  • narrative-critical
  • reader-oriented

Cite this