Friday, March 31, 2006

SBL Pauline Epistles Paper

I made two proposals to the SBL Annual Meeting to be held in Washington, DC in November this year. The first, for the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media section, was entitled "How The Passion of the Christ Reads the Scholars: Cliché and Misrepresentation in Reactions to Gibson's Film", but I had news that this was rejected several weeks ago. I was therefore delighted to hear today that my proposal for the Pauline Epistles section has been accepted. Here is the proposal:

Already Circumcised: Paul’s Letter of Rebuke to Apostate Galatians

Thesis to be argued: The epistle to the Galatians is best understood on the assumption that Paul thinks, at the time of writing, that a substantial number of the Galatians have already been circumcised. Paul is writing to rebuke converts whom he sees as apostate.

Outline of the argument: It is commonly assumed that the epistle to the Galatians is addressed to Gentile Christians who have not been circumcised, and that Paul is attempting to dissuade them from what he sees as a disastrous course of action. But the letter's substance and rhetoric are better explained on the assumption that Paul is addressing churches in which the process of circumcision is already underway. This scenario is preferable to the standard view for several reasons: (1) 6.12 speaks of the agitators compelling the Galatians to be circumcised. ἀναγκάζω is here used of successful and not attempted compulsion, as elsewhere in Greek literature, including Gal. 2.14. (2) The conditional sentence in 5.2 is misread when it is used to imply a process not yet underway. (3) The tense of Paul’s statements in 5.4 should be taken seriously “You have been severed from Christ . . . you have fallen from grace” (cf. 5.7). (4) Paul's language of astonishment (1.6), foolishness (3.1) and spells (3.1) tells the same story of successful coercion. (5) The Galatians are already keeping special days (4.10), which gives no hint that they would hold off on circumcision. (6) Paul’s picture of the agitators depicts them with knife in hand (5.12); they are practising circumcision as well as teaching it. (7) Nothing short of a new birth can turn this drastic situation around (4.19).

Relationship to previous or current research on the topic: (1) This proposal coheres with scholarship that sees Galatians as a letter of ironic rebuke (Dahl, Nanos). (2) On rare occasions, scholars have hinted at the possibility that circumcision was already underway in Galatia (Lightfoot, Martyn, Stanton), but this has never been subject to a full exposition, and the vast majority assume that this was not the case. (3) This proposal coheres with, but is not dependent on, the view that Paul lost the battle in Galatia, and that it was written after 1 Corinthians (see 16.1) but before 2 Corinthians (see 9.1-4).

Stephen Carlson has links to other bibliobloggers presenting papers at the SBL, including himself, on Hypotyposeis. As well as Stephen, Rick Brannan, Adam Kotsko, Michael Bird and Jim Davila are on the bill. Any more?

Update (3 April 2006): how could I have forgotten Sean the Baptist, whom I have known longer than any of the rest of them? In comments, Peter Head notes that a couple of the Evangelical Textual Critics are also giving papers at the SBL, as revealed deep in the comments section of an Westcott and Hort as Manuscript Scholars. Loren Rosson has a great summary in the latest Biblical Studies Carnival.


Anonymous said...

Sweet! Goodacre on Paul! Regarding other bibliobloggers presenting at SBL, let's not forget Sean the Baptist.

Rick Brannan

Brandon Wason said...

This is good news, Mark. I've been looking forward to this since you were describing it last year.

Peter M. Head said...

A couple of ETC bloggers (we are not sure whether we are bibliobloggers) have modestly noted SBL papers in the comments:

Steven Harris said...

Seems like a really interesting proposal, will it be available to read online at any time?

Also why do you think circumcision equated to apostasy in Galatia? It seems to me that it wasn't 'works righteousness' so much as a redrawing of the boundaries of who the people of God were, and in choosing circumcision the Galatians no longer identified themselves with Christ but with those who were cursed (3:10-14).

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Steven. Yes, it will be available on-line temporarily, I hope some time in the late summer, early autumn. When I use the word "apostasy", I am thinking of the way in which Paul sees turning away from his gospel he preached as the worst imaginable thing -- and yes, it is to make yourself accursed, and no, it is not about "works righteousness".