Thursday, July 30, 2009

Paul and the Roman Imperial Order

Richard A. Horsley ed., ix + 198 pages
Trinity Press International

ISBN-13: 978-1563384219
About $30.

Richard Horsley is the Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. As the title would suggest, this book approaches Paul with the understanding that Paul was not merely concerned with religious systems (primarily Judaism), but that he was also concerned with the political-economic life. So here is a short overview of the book:
Introduction: Horsley lays out the shift from "standard NT scholarship" that have focused the bulk of its attention on Paul and Judaism toward the Roman Empire. The book is basically a publishing of the session at the 2000 annual SBL meeting with some additions.
Chapter 1: Robert Jewett, "The Corruption and Redemption of Creation", Reading Rom. 8:18-23 within the Imperial Context.
Jewett overviews Greco-Roman understanding of nature, looking at Hesiod, Virgil, Horace, etc. He then looks specifically at Romans 8 to discover the "implications of Paul's formulation against the foil of the imperial context." He does a pretty thorough job walking through the relevant section in Romans 8 to see Paul's view of fall and redemption of creation.
Chapter 2: Abraham Smith, "Unmasking the Powers", Toward a Postcolonial Analysis of 1 Thessalonians.
Having just finished working through 1 Thessalonians in my Greek exegesis class with Dr. Arnold, this chapter was particularly interesting to me. He believes that this book contains Paul's resistance to the empire and as such he has a section on resistance among Judean-Israelites and different philosophies, a section on the Pro-Roman elites, and a section on Paul's criticism of Thessalonian aristocracy to strengthen his argument.
Chapter 3: Neil Elliott, "The Apostle Paul's Self-Presentation as Anti-Imperial Performance".
Elliot argues that while the imperial imagery and cult were ritual representations of power, so was the performance of Paul's presence, through his language of triumph, afflictions, and war-imagery.
Chapter 4: Rollin A. Ramsaran, "Resisting Imperial Domination and Influence", Paul's Apocalyptic Rhetoric in 1 Cor.
Ramsaran argues that "how Judean apocalyptic traditions inform or possibly provide the backbone to Paul's argument have not been adequately examined." Here, Paul is seen as an 'apocalyptist' who uses Greco-Roman rhetoric in 1 Cor.
Chapter 5: Efrain Agosto, "Patronage and Commendation, Imperial and Anti-Imperial".
This was a good chapter that overviews various forms of patronage and commendation seen in the Roman world, especially making note of the "letters of recommendation" as one principal means by which this imperial patronage system was propagated. Agosto then focuses his attention on commendation in four of Paul's letters (1 Thess. 5; 1 Cor. 16; Phil. 2, 4; Rom. 16), concluding that Paul's commendations are "almost diametrically opposite" to the imperial system.
Chapter 6: Erik M. Heen, "Phil. 2:6-11 and Resistance to Local Timocratic Rule", Isa theo and the Cult of the Emperor in the East.
Heen focuses most of his attention on isa theo in Phil. 2:6b, seeing how such terms were used by Greek urban elites to honor the emperor and views the Christ hymn of Phil. 2:6-11 as direct resistance to the imperial cult.
Chapter 7: Jennifer Wright Knust, "Paul and the Politics of Virtue and Vice".
Knust sees Paul's rhetoric of virtue and vice as not just a typical polemic from a well-taught Hellenistic Jew, but even as a "pointed attack" toward outsiders, including the emperor himself. While others piled on virtue upon virtue in their description of emperors, Paul's description of outsiders as idolaters given up to impurity and dishonor cannot be ignored as mere stereotypical polemic.
Chapter 8: Simon R.F. Price, "Response".
Some final thoughts from whom Horsley deems as an important figure in opening up the discussion of the imperial cult and its relationships.

For 200 pages, this is definitely a good book to get started on the discussion of Paul and the Roman Empire.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

φυσικὴν χρῆσιν?

Today, I read part of another chapter in J. Paul Sampley's Paul in the Greco-Roman World titled 'Paul, Families, and Households' by David L. Balch. So far it's been very interesting and good read overall, but I knew somewhere down the line I would run into something that would raise my eyebrows and today was it:

"Another key text for understanding Paul's attitude toward sexuality is Rom 1. Focusing on Greco-Roman philosophic and literary ways of conceptualizing sexual matters, Fredrickson concludes that 'in Romans 1:24-27 Paul points to the problem of passion without introducing the modern dichotomy of homo-hetero-sexuality.' Like his contemporaries, Paul writes about 'natural use' (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) and 'unnatural use' (χρῆσιν … τὴν παρὰ φύσιν) of sexual desire (1:26, 27), which was thought to be analogous to the natural use of hunger. The pleasure of sex, then, is to be limited by satisfaction, just as a wise person with a full stomach limits eating. As we saw above, this use of 'natural' does not raise the question of the gender of either the subject or the object of sexual desire. Plutarch (Advice to Bride and Groom 144B) also refers to the wife's 'use' of the husband, to which Paul probably refers in Rom 1:26... which is not then a reference to lesbian sexual activity... Fredrickson agrees with Martin: by 'against nature', Paul means not 'disoriented desire' but 'inordinate desire.'" (Sampley, 277-278)

While the argument seems cogent enough, it seems to me that if we properly read Rom. 1:25 that establishes the Διὰ τοῦτο ("for this reason") in 1:26, it cannot be understated that the indictment found in this section is rooted in creation (e.g. serving the creation more than the Creator). Here's what a few people have said regarding this paragraph:

C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, 35:
"By 'natural' and 'contrary to nature' Paul clearly means 'in accordance with the Creator's intention' and 'contrary to the Creator's intention', respectively. It is not impossible that Paul had some awareness of the great importance which 'nature' had in Greek thought for centuries; that he was aware of it use in contemporary popular philosophy is very likely. But the decisive factor in his use of it is his biblical doctrine of creation."

Douglas Moo, Romans (NICNT), 114-115:
"Paul generally uses the word 'nature' to describe the way things are by reason of their intrinsic state or birth, and in these cases there is no clear reference to divine intention. Some scholars in recent years especially, noting this, have argued that Paul does not here brand homosexuality as a violation of God's will... But Paul's use of the word 'nature' in this verse probably owes much to Jewish authors, particularly Philo... Sexual sins that are 'against nature' are also, then, against God, and it is this close association that makes it probable that Paul's appeal to 'nature' in this verse includes appeal to God's created order.

I'm just very skeptical that Balch is pushing for Paul's reference to Plutarch over against Philo and other Jewish writings...

What do you guys think?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The AH-HA moment.

No matter what particular passions or goals you might have, I tend to think there must have been one specific moment in time that made you go ah-ha! and cracked open the floodgates of your heart/mind to pursue that dream.

For all you bibliobloggers pursuing biblical studies (whether it be MA, MDiv, PhD, etc.), what was your ah-ha! moment? I'm curious to know if was a particular book, a specific class, a sermon, or whatever else you can think of.

As for me, there were two books regarding Romans:

John Piper, Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23

Simon J. Gathercole, Where Is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5

The first book I read about 3 years ago when I first began my studies @ Talbot, and while I probably understood about 10% of it, it made me want to pursue solid groundwork in the languages and exegesis. I have yet to reread the book to see how I feel about the particular issues raised in the book, but it nonetheless sits on my shelf as one of the first 'scholarly rigorous' books that I've bought.

The second book, I read about 6 months ago, and I think this was Dr. Gathercole's publishing of his doctoral dissertation under J.D.G. Dunn. It definitely raises some good questions regarding the New Perspective and in my opinion he gives a pretty fair and critical assessment of both sides on this issue.

I think I'm still very young in terms of having read good journal articles, monographs, etc., but reading these two books have been my ah-ha! moments to want to pursue a career in biblical studies.

What was your ah-ha! moment(s)?

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I'm currently working through C.K. Barrett's The New Testament Background: Selected Documents, and I have to say, it's been very good so far as he gives a very good overview of a lot of primary sources. Today I came across a section titled "Heretics," and here's what he said:

"A word commonly used to describe a heretic or sceptic is אפיקורוס ('appiqoros). The origin of the word is uncertain, but even if it was derived from a Hebrew root the coincidence of its sound with the name of the Greek thinker Epicurus must have played no small part in the development of its meaning."1

Is this a coincidence?

While it may be a bit anachronistic and taking things out of context, Elie Wiesel once said, "In Jewish history, there are no coincidences."

1C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents, (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 210.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Tale of One (Two) Poets?

Do you know these two famous poets:

I'm currently reading through Paul in the Greco-Roman World edited by J. Paul Sampley, and I'm in Chapter 7, "Paul and Greco-Roman Education" written by Ronald F. Hock. Pretty good so far, and I just noticed this last night:

A line from famous poet #1:
πρὸς δ' ἐμὲ τὸν δύστηνον ἔτι φρονέοντ' ἐλέησον
Have pity on me, the unfortunate one, while I am still alive. -- Homer the Greek

Awe factor: Greek scholiasts recognized that this line from the Iliad represented each of the eight parts of speech! πρὸς is a preposition, δ' is a conjunction, ἐμὲ a pronoun, τὸν an article, δύστηνον a noun, ἔτι an adverb, φρονέοντ' a participle, ἐλέησον a verb. I have not read up enough on Homer to know if this is accidental or intentional, but I am currently standing with the latter choice.

A line from famous poet #2:
I've always wondered if there was a god. And now I know there is -- and it's me. -- Homer the Simpson
Awe factor: In this one line, Homer succinctly sums up the core of humanity since the Fall.

Is Homer Simpson Ὅμηρος reborn?

PS: On a related note, does anyone know of any good textbooks to learn Classical Greek and Latin?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lucky numbers...

        Two particularly popular "lucky numbers" are 7 and 13, which also happen to be the number of undisputed Paul letters (7) and total 'Pauline' letters in the Bible (13). Most scholars probably agree that Paul wrote Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. On the other hand, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus are seen as 'Pauline,' but not written by the apostle Paul himself.
       We just started talking about the issue of pseudepigraphy in class (My professor wrote his dissertation under I. Howard Marshall on Ephesians, so I think this was a particularly important subject for him.) and one interesting question came to mind: if the supposed 'Pauline' school was writing under his name to honor his memory and to encourage the church, what would be the reaction of the recipients? I'm not sure if I'm looking at this too simply, but, if I were to receive a letter under the name of my friend, yet knowing full well that this friend could not have written the letter, what good would it be? I would think this highly diminishes the importance of the content based on authorship.

Anyway, I was reading through Peter T. O'Brien's Ephesians commentary and this is what he concludes:

"We conclude that although pseudonymity was a widely practised literary convention in the ancient world among Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians, there is no certain evidence that any document which was known to be fraudulent was accepted as religiously and philosophically prescriptive. Further, the widespread phenomenon of pseudonymous writings does not demonstrate their presence within the New Testament, or show that Ephesians, for example, was part of an ongoing pseudepigraphal tradition... Finally, some have claimed that the pseudonymity of Ephesians does not in any way detract from its canonicity, or from the validity and authority of its message. Whether it was written by Paul or by one of his followers, Ephesians stands within the canon... However, there appears to be some confusion in the argument here. The claim is made that because Ephesians is in the canon it is therefore authoritative. But for the early church the argument went the other way: Ephesians was recognized as apostolic and authoritative, and as a result it was accepted into the canon."1

1Peter T. O'Brien, The Letters to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 44-45.