Friday, February 24, 2012

does Paul quote Hosea from memory?

The concept of "memory," especially of "social memory," is a live issue among New Testament scholars. (Social memory refers to a field of inquiry within the Humanities that raises questions about the social distribution, function, and contestation of knowledge about the past. In other words, how do humans, as part of the social groups of which they find themselves members, remember, utilize, and argue about the images, narratives, and rituals of the past?) I'm certain that social memory research holds potential for Pauline scholarship just as much as it has opened up new questions and routes of inquiry in Jesus scholarship, but I don't know specifically how.

As I was working on my comments on Romans 9 for a graduate course I'm teaching, I noted that Paul's citation of Hosea (and Isaiah, too) in this chapters seems a bit haphazard. Robert Jewett (Romans [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007], 599) provides a nice chart showing how re-arranged is Paul's citation(s) from Hosea 2:

It might be difficult to read, but the basic point is that Paul cites passages from Hosea in the following order:

  • Hos. 2.25c
  • Hos. 2.25b
  • Hos. 2.1b
  • Hos. 2.1c
My question: Does this suggest that Paul is citing Hosea from memory? Does it matter that neither his citations from Hosea here or of Isaiah in 9.27–29 exactly match the Septuagintal form of either text? If Paul is citing from memory, does this offer us a glimpse into how the traditions as well as the written texts of the Hebrew Bible worked (or functioned) in early Christian memory?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

gendered pronouns in a discussion of Romans

I'm sure I should know this already (perhaps it has already been explained). But, Does anyone know why Robert Jewett, in his commentary on Romans (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), uses feminine English pronouns in his translation of masculine Greek pronouns that refer to God? For example, he offers the following translation of Rom. 9.19: "You will say to me then, 'Why then does he still find fault? For who has resisted her design?'" (Jewett, Romans, 587) The Greek text behind the Jewett's translation, "who has resisted her design," is τῷ βουλήματι αὐτοῦ τίς ἀνθέστηκεν; This isn't the only time Jewett does this, but it is the first time I've noticed him doing it. Doe anyone know whether he offers any justification for this way of rendering the text?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

something's amiss here

I'm working through some thoughts on the identity of Paul's interlocutor in Romans (chapters 2–11, though my focus is on Romans 1–4). I've been reading Runar Thorsteinsson's Paul's Interlocutor in Romans 2: Function and Identity in the Context of Ancient Epistolography (Almqvist & Wiksell International: Stockholm, 2003), which is just a fantastic book. With very few exceptions, Thorsteinsson's arguments are both clear and compelling; when I examine his reading of Romans, he sees the text the way I see the text. Though I'm neither a Romans nor even a Pauline specialist, it seems to me that this is a book of which NT scholarship must take much greater account. You Pauline scholars out there, Am I wrong?

On the other hand, I'm also working my way through [parts of] Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). Campbell's book was the subject of the December 2011 issue of JSNT, with very critical review articles by Barry Matlock and Grant Macaskill. Of the very many distinctive reading positions and arguments in this very lengthy book, Campbell argues that we should read Rom. 1.18–32 as "speech-in-character," as Paul taking up the voice of and speaking as a character other than himself. Stanley Stowers has argued convincingly that Paul employs the rhetorical device, speech-in-character, in Rom. 7.7–25, so such things are not impossible. However, as Stowers emphasizes and Campbell acknowledges, anyone who proposes this as a reading strategy has to explain how Paul might have expected his readers to recognize his rhetorical maneuver. In Romans 7 there are several clear signals (which I discuss in my notes on Romans; if there's interest I can post those comments on this site). But Romans 1 lacks such clear signals. So Campbell argues instead,
It is my contention that the initial auditors of Romans could have detected such a strategy relatively easily through a plethora of nonverbal signals—the types of signals with which performed texts abound. And it must be emphasized that at this stage of our discussion it is necessary only to establish this identification as a possibility. Ultimately, my suggested rereading of Romans 1:18–32 will rely on evidence that emerges "downstream," so we will affirm this identification strongly only in retrospect. But it should be noted that this retrospective judgment is an accident of the text's canonical preservation, of the resulting loss of its original performed context, and also of some of our modern hermeneutical assumptions. We will realize belatedly what the Roman auditors could recognize relatively quickly, through the text's appropriate performance. For this reason, my auditors need for the moment only to be open to this reading of 1:18–32 as a possibility. Could the Roman Christians have detected a satirical textual operation here if it was indeed present? (Deliverance of God, 530; my emphasis [see pp. 530–41])

As I have already admitted, I am not a Pauline specialist, so I'm a bit outside my field. But I am a bit more experienced with oral traditional scholarship, and I have spent eight years reflecting on and exploring how to apply the theories, methods, and results of oral traditional scholarship to written textual questions. In fact, oral traditional scholars themselves have spent decades exploring this issue, so there's a vast body of literature on the subject. And oral traditional scholars have long emphasized that nonverbal and/or extratextual factors such as intonation, gesture, voice inflection, pace/tempo, musical accompaniment, social and/or physical environment, facial expression and other body language, eye contact, directionality, etc. etc. etc. affect how a written text communicates its meaning to an audience. In fact, it's safe to say that the written text itself didn't communicate its meaning to its original audience; rather, a reader/lector/oral performer communicated the text's meaning, and s/he did so via a number of techniques that (i) cannot be found within the tradition's textual stratum (i.e., the written text itself) and so (ii) is no longer available to us. This is unfortunate, because these methods, as Campbell rightly recognizes, are often if not always determinative for how and what a written text means.

Anyone reading Campbell's book, however, needs to know, this is NOT the way to apply issues of oral performance and/or presentation to (written) textual analysis. The problem with Campbell's argument here in Romans 1 is that there's no way to falsify it. There's no way to prove that Campbell's rereading runs exactly counter to Paul's intentions for Rom. 1.18–32 precisely because there's no evidence in support of his rereading. Unlike Romans 7, no textual clues suggest that Paul is speaking "in character" in Romans 1, and so all Campbell can do is grin and ask us to bear it.

But, given that, first, Rom. 1.18–32 makes perfectly good sense within Paul's own authorial voice (i.e., in his undisputed letters, in the disputed [or deutero-Pauline] letters, and in Acts, Paul speaks of God's judgment against the gentiles) and that, second, nothing that follows 1.18–32 requires us to hear Paul's comments about gentile depravity as "speech-in-character," we need to read this text straightforwardly, as the author presents it to us. Indeed, Thorsteinsson, in the much more helpful reading of Romans that I mentioned above, argues persuasively against exactly the kind of retrospective reading strategies Campbell employs here. So while we might grant that we could read Rom. 1.18–32 as a "satirical textual operation," we—and Campbell, too—need to admit that Paul has utterly failed to encode that operation with the text itself. And that failure, I would argue, is the best evidence against the proposal that we should read this passage satirically (pace Campbell, 541: "[s]uch texts therefore deliver their ironic and subversive potential entirely performatively" [emphasis his]).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Whitney Houston (9 Aug 1963–11 Feb 2012)

I don't usually write about things like this, but Whitney Houston's tragic and premature death has stuck in my brain more than I would have expected. As a child of the 80s, her music is like a soundtrack to my childhood. I can remember my mother putting on "How Will I Know" or "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" as we did chores around the house. Whitney Houston was an era unto herself, a time when Pop music was broad enough to include people who could really (and actually) sing.

Those of us who live on after the death of an icon have to face a particularly difficult problem: How do we strike a balance between the decorum and dignity that we owe the recently deceased, on the one hand, and the honesty and integrity that we owe ourselves as we recall and reflect on a life now lived? Those who fail to show the former seem calloused, cold, and uncaring, while those who fail to show the latter come off as shallow, selective, and . . . well, full of crap. So how do we appreciate and show respect for a woman whose life has so many negative lessons to teach?

I'm not sure. But I can't escape the notion in my own mind that the really tragic aspect of Whitney Houston is not her early death but her heart-breaking life. If anything, 11 February 2012 brought at least one tragic story to a close, and perhaps the world has one less truly unhappy person this morning. Ms. Houston certainly doesn't need my pity, and so I won't be so bold as to offer it. But I do pray that, at the end of her life, she still knew something of the grace of God that she seems to have known so powerfully early in her life. And if not, I take some comfort in knowing that God has said he loved (and loves) Ms. Houston more than any of us enjoyed her music. Her life is now in his hands, but then again her life has always been in his hands.

On a completely unrelated note, my family and I took a trip to a local used bookstore this weekend, and my wife picked up the now-classic Seven Habits of Highly of Effective People, which I originally read in college. One of those habits, if I remember rightly, is, Begin with the End in Mind. Whatever Stephen Covey said about that habit (I don't really remember, though more of this might come from him than I care to admit), this made me realize that I need to live the kind of life today that merits the eulogy I hope to receive at my own funeral. And while I hope to still have decades left in this world (though I might have only minutes), I hope no one at my funeral thinks inwardly or says outwardly that the most salient lessons of my life are tragic lessons.

The world has lost an amazing voice, but it lost that voice long before this weekend last. What we have gained, sadly, is a powerful prompt to stop and consider our own potential, how far we are willing to stretch to reach that potential, and what actually provides the source of our value and significance in and for this world.
16 LORD, in distress we searched for you.
We prayed beneath the burden of your discipline.
17 Just as a pregnant woman
writhes and cries out in pain as she gives birth,
so were we in your presence, LORD.
18 We, too, writhe in agony,
but nothing comes of our suffering.
We have not given salvation to the earth,
nor brought life into the world.
19 But those who die in the LORD will live;
their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth
will rise up and sing for joy!
For your life-giving light will fall like dew
on your people in the place of the dead! (Isa. 26.16–19 [NLT])

Saturday, February 11, 2012

a first-century CE Markan manuscript?

Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary) has announced the discovery of a number of papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament. He says,
[S]even New Testament papyri had recently been discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year.

The first-century manuscript is of the Gospel of Mark, he claims. The difficulty, of course, with identifying Mark in fragmentary texts is that so much of Mark appears in Matthew and Luke, too. So if Wallace is this confident that we have a copy of Mark (whatever the ms's date), it must be a text that only Mark has (e.g., Mark 4.26–29, 8.22–26, etc.), or it has some detail that Matthew and Luke lack (e.g., the mention of the cushion in Mark 4.38, or the "splitting" of the heavens in 1.10, etc.), or it lacks some detail that both Matthew and Luke have (e.g., the fuller narration of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, or John the Baptist's teaching, etc.). As Wallace explains, our earliest manuscript of Mark comes from the third century CE (P45, c. 200–250 CE), so a new and early manuscript of Mark would indeed be exciting, even if it isn't as early as the first century.

But for now, we should emphasize, no physical evidence has been made public, and so we don't have any idea of what we have. In the quote I provided above, Wallace promises publication "in about a year." Unfortunately, that's hardly sufficient to give us any confidence. So, for now, we're better off to imagine ourselves sitting in a café waiting for a blind date to arrive. We've been told nice things, and we hope she's both attractive and engaging. But we sit near the rear entrance in case attractive-and-engaging's step-sister shows up instead. After all, we've been burned before.

See also comments on NT Blog, Exploring our Matrix, Evangelical Textual Criticism, Paleojudaica, and many, many others.

Friday, February 10, 2012

more on "weakness" in Romans 8

In a previous post, I commented on the strange use of "weakness" in Rom. 8.3, where Paul seems to say that Torah itself was rendered weak. This doesn't sound so strange in the Christian's ear, perhaps. But Paul no where else uses the stem ἀσθεν- [asthen-; "weak"] in relation to Torah. In fact, what is "weak" is always Paul and/or some or all of his readers, the flesh, etc. But the translators and commentators I was reading seemed to accept, in their translations, that Paul says Torah [ὁ νόμος; ho nomos] was weakened, even if their comments on the passage denied that Torah was actually weakened in any real sense.

I don't think N. T. Wright solves the problem, but he at least acknowledges it. Wright asks, "What was impossible for the law? That it should give life. It offered it, but could not deliver" ("Romans," NIB 577). He then says,
It could not do so because it was "weak because of the flesh." Despite many commentators and preachers who have been eager to see Paul say negative things about the law, he declares, summing up the argument of chap. 7, that there was nothing wrong with it in itself. The problem lay elsewhere: in the "flesh"—not the physicality of human nature, which was God-given and will be reaffirmed in the resurrection (8:11), but in the present rebellious and corruptible state of humankind, within which sin had made its dwelling (7:18, 20, 23, 25). (Wright, "Romans," 577)

I think this is the right track. The flesh, rather than Torah itself, was the cause of weakness. But of course, this creates some tension with the actual grammar of the passage itself. Paul does indeed say that Torah's weakness came "through/by the flesh" [διὰ τῆς σαρκός; dia tēs sarkos], but nevertheless it looks like Torah itself "was weakened." And this idea, as Jewett noted, is unique among the Pauline corpus and even the NT itself. And I still cannot escape the suspicious that, v. 3 notwithstanding, the rest of Romans 7.7–8.11 does not portray a weakened Torah.

I'm still not sure we've understood this verse rightly. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

even The Message got this one right

Codex Sinaiticus [א], Rom. 8.2 (NB the pronoun σε [se; "you"], circled)
There's a small but significant textual variant in Rom. 8.2. Both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, two of the more important manuscripts for NT textual criticism, read, "for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set you free from the law of sin and of death." A number of other witnesses, including Alexandrinus, a whole host of miniscules, and many of the Fathers, read, " . . . set me free . . ." (A handful of witnesses read "us," but this is almost certainly an attempt to universalize Paul's point here.)

What I find especially interesting is the hermeneutical potential of both readings. In fact, I would adopt both readings (or, better, I would adopt either reading, depending on context). The "me" reading takes an autobiographical approach to Rom. 7.7–25, in which Paul finds himself under sin's sway and in need of being set free. The "you" reading fits better with the "speech-in-character" approach (which I'm adopting for my course); in 8.2 Paul resumes speaking in his authorial voice and addresses the character in whose voice he was speaking throughout 7.7–25. So, in my judgment, the best reading is, "the Spirit . . . set you free from the law of sin and of death."

But here's the point I've been wanting to make the whole time. provides a list of parallel translations of Rom. 8.2. If you follow the link, you'll see that The Message reads "you" here, but the NIV agrees with the King James family of translations in reading "me." Is it really too much to ask the NIV to get it right when even The Message can?!

Monday, February 06, 2012

"weak[ness]" in Rom. 8.3

I'm working my way through Romans 8, and perhaps it occasions no surprise to find that this passage is kicking my butt. For example, my reaction to v. 3: "Focus, Paul. Focus." Complete sentences are not only useful for effective communication but also for theological clarity. But Paul seems to have had other ideas.

But I could use your help (especially you Pauline and Romans specialists out there). Romans 8.3 begins with the incomplete phrase, "For the impossibility of the Torah in that which it was weak through the flesh . . . " [Τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός; to gar adynaton tou nomou en hō ēsthenei dia tēs sarkos]. Clearly I'm making certain interpretive decisions already (e.g., nomos = Torah). But I'm struggling to determine the subject of the imperfect verb ēsthenei The obvious option, grammatically, is nomos, and every translation and commentator I've consulted takes this option.

But here's the problem. Everywhere in Romans, when Paul uses the language of "weakness," the what that he describes as weak is a person. And with the exception of 4.19, where Abraham did not grow weak [μὴ ἀσθενήσας; mē asthenēsas] in his faith, Paul is always referring to his readers (sometimes including himself [5.6; 8.26], sometimes differentiating some of his readers from others [14.1; 15.1]). A wider search reveals a similar pattern; nowhere in forty-four uses of ἀσθενέω, ἀσθενής, ἀσθένεια, or ἀσθένημα does Paul describe Torah (or nomos on any other interpretation) as "weak." While it's certainly possible that, this one time here at Rom. 8.3, Paul describes the nomos as "weakened by the flesh, I am surprised at the lack of discussion of this unusual usage.

Robert Jewett illustrates the problem, but I don't think he provides any real help in solving it. He rightly notes that the verb ēsthenei is "an expression ordinarily referring to someone becoming ill" (Romans, 483). He also, again rightly, notes that Paul's usage here, if it refers to the nomos, would be "unique to the NT." But then he says, inexplicably I think, that this unique phrase "recapitulates the argument of the preceding chapter about human arrogance and the quest for honor, which corrupt the law and destroy its capacity to achieve the good." The problem here, however, is that Paul never in Romans 7 described the nomos as weak or corrupted or powerless; the image in Rom. 7.7–25 was of Paul's persona—the role from within which he speaks ("speech-in-character")—as helpless and impotent to stop sin from acting within/among his members. Paul's persona, and not nomos, was weak in Romans 7. So how 8.3 "recapitulates" the argument of Romans 7, as Jewett suggests, is unclear to me.

So I'd like to ask the following questions:

  • Are there contextual reasons that make us confident that Paul must be describing the nomos here as weakened (notice that I'm not asking whether nomos = Torah, though that might be a factor that affects the question I am asking)?
  • Are there other ways to understand the relative clause en hō ēsthenei, so that we interpret ἀσθενεῖν in 8.3 in such a way that fits with every other use of this word in the Pauline corpus?
  • Are there discussions in the secondary literature that note and address this complex of issues?
  • If Paul is saying that the nomos was weakened through the flesh, what does he mean?
Any thoughts?

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