A modest proposal: The Collected Writings of Paul

In the last ten years or so, there has been a growing interest both in liberation readings of Paul within the biblical studies and theological guilds and in secular reappropriations of Paul by radical philosophers. Hence, I think that the time is perhaps ripe for a new presentation of the works of Paul: a volume that includes only the undisputed Pauline corpus, in a fresh translation carried out by biblical scholars of a liberation bent.

Continue reading “A modest proposal: The Collected Writings of Paul”

Book recommendation: Galatians Re-Imagined

This week, I’ve been working my way through Brigitte Kahl’s Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished, and I recommend it heartily to all those interested in liberation readings of the New Testament. In my own attempts to develop a liberation reading of Paul, Galatians, with its seeming anti-Judaism, has proven to be a major obstacle — but Kahl’s book provides a lot of resources for radically rethinking the traditional reading. What she ends up with is basically in the tradition of Neil Elliott’s Liberating Paul, but along the way Kahl provides a lot of information that was new to me. Here are a few of the key facts. Continue reading “Book recommendation: Galatians Re-Imagined

A brief thought on questions of Pauline authorship

I’ve finally made my way through Paul’s undisputed letters in Greek and am now aiming to read all the epistles this summer (having already read 1-3 John, James, 2 Peter, and Jude — the latter two because of the recent discussion of sodomy). This has been an excellent exercise for shoring up my Greek skills, but the main intellectual result has been to soften or nuance some of my views on Paul. First of all, I realize that I went into this project believing that I would find some clear overarching “Pauline system,” but that ran aground in Galatians — there’s something about having to work through a text in agonizing detail that makes it very difficult to breeze over things, which I was predisposed to do whenever I came across the clear contradictions in Galatians.

The solution, it seems, is to recognize change and development in Paul’s thought, which seems a sensible enough position in retrospect but which was apparently unavailable to me initially because of an unreflected-upon “scriptural authority” that Paul the man, if not all the letters under the name of Paul, still had for me. Once it is permissible to assume that Paul’s position is evoluving, though, I wonder how much the question of authorship matters.

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Translating St. Paul: Any human day?

Reading 1 Corinthians, I came across the following strange wording:

ἐμοὶ δὲ εἰς ἐλάχιστόν ἐστιν ἵνα ὑφ’ ὑμῶν ἀνακριθῶ ἢ ὑπὸ ἀνθρωπίνης ἡμέρας· ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ἐμαυτὸν ἀνακρίνω·
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. (4:3 NRSV)

The bolded Greek words seem to be “by any human day” rather than “court.” Is this an idiom I’m missing? Is it meant to contrast the “Day of the Lord” with “human days”? (If it’s the latter, I wonder if there is an economical translation that could capture that aspect a little better than “any human court.”)

The collection in 2 Corinthians

One of the biggest benefits of going through Paul’s letters in Greek hasn’t been a flood of nuance — though there are some ideological or traditional distortions in the translations, for the most part they seem to be perfectly good — but simply being forced to slow down and study things in detail. Nowhere has that benefit been greater than in 2 Corinthians, where the fun ranting part in 10-13 has always led me to underplay the first 9 chapters, which actually contain some really interesting material that provide the greatest support for a “liberation” reading of Paul.

2 Corinthians provides the greatest detail concerning one of Paul’s greatest goals, which also seems to motivate his writing of Romans: the collection for the poor of Judea. Put briefly, it appears to be a desire to fulfill the prophecies that the nations will bring tribute to Israel — but it does an end-run around the powers and authorities of both groups, instead going for a grass-roots level offering from the poor of the nations to the poor of Israel. Perhaps this can inform what we’ve been discussing in previous posts about Paul’s call for the Gentiles to abandon idolatry: instead of stopping with that purely negative gesture, favoring the poor (particularly the poor of Israel) becomes a concrete way of identifying with the God of Israel.

What’s unclear to me is how we should understand what Paul was doing in Corinth and how he managed to attract an apparent critical mass of rich or powerful “converts.” He says over and over again that the Corinthians are his “boast” — perhaps getting the rich and powerful to go along with his mission represents a kind of tour de force (navigating the camel through the eye of the needle, so to speak)? And perhaps allowing other, poorer churches to provide support instead of letting the rich Corinthians keep him as a kind of “court philosopher” was a strategic move to humble them?

Another thought: exactly who was in charge of compiling these letters? Continue reading “The collection in 2 Corinthians”

Paul’s Two Minds on the Law: Or, Paul’s One Mind on the Jews

In recent months, I have been advancing a fairly “strong” reading of the authentic letters of Paul, with Romans 9-11 as the guiding thread on his relationship to Judaism. As I’ve been going through the letters in Greek, though, my reading completely ran aground on Galatians. It seems clear that any attempt to get one consistent position from Paul on this issue is impossible, and that’s because Paul is always responding to events — as indeed his very mission to the Gentiles is a response to an event (the apocalyptic vision of Christ).

I’ve also been reading Gershom Scholem’s work on messianism in the last couple weeks, and based on what he says there, I’d say that Paul starts out as an “anarchist” messianist (as opposed to the kind of messianist who thinks the law will be intensified in the messianic age) — perhaps because the coming of the messiah required the ingathering of the Gentiles, Paul concludes that the law loses its force for the new messianic era. Continue reading “Paul’s Two Minds on the Law: Or, Paul’s One Mind on the Jews”

More on Galatians: “Living like a Gentile”

Yesterday vividly illustrated the dangers of diving into Paul after having gone through a Greek textbook by oneself — some readers have been put off by the seeming self-centeredness of the whole “we blog for our own benefit” thing, but in the Greek translation posts, I’m making up for my lack of formal classroom instruction in Greek.

I promised more on Galatians 2, and here’s something that doesn’t seem to require me to delve too deeply into the Greek text. Before the long monologue, Paul reports that he asked Peter the following: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” The question I have is what “living like a Gentile” means in this context.

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Some reflections on 2 Maccabees

In comments to a recent post of mine on works righteousness and Judaism in the letters of Paul, Bruce Rosenstock called attention to the broader apocalyptic significance of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, which is a kind of subplot in God’s plan for Israel. As we discussed the significance of the cross in that apocalyptic vision — which I have tended to understand in terms of showing the Roman Empire to be illegitimate — Bruce suggested that I look at 2 Maccabees. I reread it this afternoon, and now I’d like to offer some provisional thoughts on it, in the hopes of getting others to read it and getting a broader conversation started.

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