Sight and blindness as an index of character in Luke-Acts and its cultural milieu.
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This dissertation is a literary study of the biblical texts, and specifically of Luke-Acts. It is a literary study that seeks to understand what an ancient audience might have heard when reading these texts. Specifically, this dissertation is a literary study in characterization, particularly the use of physical descriptions as a means of characterization. In the ancient world, people often thought in terms of “physiognomics.” Physiognomy is a pseudo-science that claims that the inner, moral character of a person can be known by studying the outward, physical features. That is, it was believed that there was a direct correlation between appearance and character such that the body reflected the character and the character could be discerned by careful physical examination. In fact, entire handbooks were devoted to this study, handbooks that provide a kind of index to these physical markers. In the modern world, we are not accustomed to thinking in these ways. In fact, such an approach would be dismissed or even condemned as stereotyping or even racial profiling. Nonetheless, if such a study was common in the ancient world, then one can expect authors to make use of these physiognomic conventions, and one can expect that an audience would hear in such physical descriptions a corresponding set of moral traits. In short, we in the modern world are missing an entire means of characterization when we fail to recognize that physical descriptions have moral freight. Within the larger rubric of physiognomics, this dissertation will study one specific physical marker in particular—blindness. As we study the ancient sources, we actually find something of a literary topos for the blind character that begins to emerge. That is to say that whenever a character in ancient literature is described as “blind,” a certain set of assumptions about the person’s character would likely be made by the audience. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that blindness serves as an interpretive principle that is programmatic for Luke-Acts, and this dissertation seeks to bring that element of the narrative to the forefront.