Sunday, November 12, 2006

Were the Galatians already circumcised? IV

This is the fourth post in the current series and it follows on from Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? I, Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? II and Were the Galatians Already Circumcised? III. I break the development of the argument here to address some points made in comments to the third post by Mark Nanos. I am very grateful to Mark for his robust and forthright criticism of my view. To have Mark Nanos comment on one's thoughts on Galatians is a bit like having John Kloppenborg comment on one's thoughts on Q, a great honour.

Mark argues that Paul's use of ἀνόητοι does not so much depict not thinking as thinking the wrong thing:
I do not think that Paul addressing them as ἀνόητοι lends any support to your argument. It connotes shamelessness, that is, thinking wrongly from the accuser's (Paul's) point of view, and in that sense failing to think (meaning, to think correctly, with the accuser's way of thinking).The idea is that they are perhaps being effected by something since otherwise they would be expected to think otherwise (like the accuser thinks), not that they are not thinking versus thinking.
Well, Paul's charge of not thinking is consistent with the rest of the epistle. Paul depicts the Galatians as being compelled rather than making a willing decision based on rational thought. So for Paul, it is not that they are thinking the wrong thing, but that they are not thinking at all. Of course this is Paul's rhetoric, but as always we have to ask the question about what situation best explains the trigger for this rhetoric. I am arguing that what Paul insists makes best sense on the assumption that they have already done something drastic, not that they are only thinking about it. In other words, Paul knows that the Galatians are in fact thinking differently from him, but his depiction of them as ἀνόητοι (unthinking, foolish) functions as part of his depiction of the Galatians as not acting on the basis of careful thought that is consistent with their calling. This is why I begun this series with a post on 6.12, where Paul depicts the Galatians as acting under compulsion from others. He wants to suggest that they are not acting in accordance with the Spirit, that they are being neither consistent nor intelligent, that they are turning to another gospel under some kind of unthinking coercion. Now the actual situation on the ground in Galatia must have been rather different from this, but the point here is that the charge of lack of thought, of compulsion being enacted upon them, makes excellent sense as something aimed at people for whom circumcision is now becoming a reality. It is much more difficult to get it to work for a group who are, in the standard description of the Galatian situation, simply "considering" circumcision.

Mark also feels that 3.1 does not make sense on my interpretation:
I think this piece of evidence in Gal 3:1 works against your thesis that some of the Galatians to whom Paul writes have already been circumcised. If already completing proselyte conversion (circumcision), then this would eliminate that which Paul accuses the influencers here of doing, of "evil eying" the addressees; that is, of the influencers "envying" (=begrudging) the Galatian addressees for claiming to have the gift of the Spirit reserved for those who are circumcised children of Abraham. That seems to depend on the addressees not yet being circumcised, but being instead non-Jews who should not be entitled to have the Spirit and miracles in their midst.
I may be misunderstanding Mark's point here but it seems to me that the "evil-eying" or "bewitching" is something Paul depicts as already having happened, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν (aorist indicative), "Who bewitched you?". They are not "evil-eying" those who have already been circumcised; in Paul's construction here, the evil-eying (past) precedes the Galatians' taking action.

Mark goes on to ask me a question about my interpretation:
A question for you, Mark, is how Paul can express in 5:10 that he is confident they will remain on his (non-circumcision) course (to stay on it after hitting an obstacle along the way, i.e., contemplating a detour; v. 7) if they have already become circumcised?
Let's have a look at what Paul says here:
ἐγὼ πέποιθα εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι οὐδὲν ἄλλο φρονήσετε ὁ δὲ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς βαστάσει τὸ κρίμα ὅστις ἐὰν ᾖI am persuaded concerning you in the Lord that you will come to think in no other way, but the one who is troubling you will face judgement, whoever he is.
5.10 says nothing about Paul's confidence that "they will remain on his (non-circumcision) course". Rather, he is here expressing his hope that they will (future) come to think like him, in other words that this letter will succeed in his task of persuading them that the course of action they are on needs to be turned around. One can see that he is thinking about this future scenario because his mind turns here also to the (future) judgement of the one currently troubling the Galatians. 5.7 ("You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?") does not speak about "contemplating a detour". Contemplation is not what Paul is discussing in Galatians; he sees the act as currently taking place. But that, of course, brings us back to my argument, which will continue in the next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words about my interaction; I am quite pleased to see your interest in Galatians and valuable discussions. Let me try to sort out a response.

First, you may have overlooked that I also responded to your second Gal post on some issues that arise with your argument from thaumazw in 1:6.

Second, your write: "I am arguing that what Paul insists makes best sense on the assumption that they have already done something drastic, not that they are only thinking about it." OK. I think I can state the problem simply. I don't disagree that they have done something drastic; otherwise Paul would not have written just this kind of ironic rebuke letter, as I have argued myself. What I disagree about is that you pose in this sentence and following ones, as you did in the post to which I responded, something that is just not so as far as I can see. You are bifurcating thinking and doing in a way that is not sociologically correct. Let me put it this way. When someone repents, is that thinking or doing? When they "turn" is hard to nail down, but it involves the action of thinking before the actions that follow from choosing that course of thinking and acting. It is nevertheless doing something at the point that it is primarily measured in a change of mind, of thinking that what they had done was wrong and they need to turn toward doing something else. Do you see what I am trying to get at here? When your kids bring up tattoos and you explain why they can't have one, for whatever reason you offer, that is one thing. When you find that they are making plans to get one, that is "doing" something, even if not having gotten a tattoo, that you will need to engage differently than the calm hypothetical discussion of tattoos originally undertaken. Now you have to rattle their self- and peer-group-confidence in following that course, perhaps with a tattoo where the sun doesn't shine, so you won't know about it. That is a perfect time for ironic rebuke. I don't see how what you have presented demonstrates that they are at the point of having gotten circ. (tattooed) or merely have begun to think about doing it, the action of being seduced to believe that is the better course to take.

You have made a good case--which, by the way, I agree with and have argued too--that Paul is responding in this letter to the perception that the Galatians he addresses have changed course to some degree that he wants to prevent them (or others) from going down any further. But that can be the point of entertaining the course of proselyte conversion, of circ. for males as signifying the completion of that course. As far as I can tell, that is the point you have made well.

Third, I have not responded to your arguments about "compulsion," but I do not think you have made the point that they have been circ. there either; only that they are finding the position of the influencers compelling. That is a change from when Paul was among them and taught them the gospel. I believe that applies to the Antioch Incident too. He is not saying those Gentiles have become proselytes/circumcised, but that they now can logically see that is what is required to be treated as equals, against the early teaching of the gospel by Paul and Peter that they were equal while remaining non-Jews (hence, the argument of vv. 15ff).

Fourth, yes, Paul is accussing them of a past action of being disturbed by the envious glance of the influencers (whether true or not). That means they have been troubled, not that they have been circ. Part of my problem with your use of this passage is that if they are circ. there is nothing to envy! But if they are claiming equal rights with proselytes without becoming proselytes too, then there is something to envy (begrudge) on the johnnie-come-lately terms that often provokes an evil eye.

Fifth, I offered a discussion of 5:7-10 to help you think about that difference. You are right to pick apart the exact language I paraphrased in those verses, and if time and interest I would respond to that more carefully. Let me just react to what you write in response. You write: "Contemplation is not what Paul is discussing in Galatians; he sees the act as currently taking place."

Again, I do not disagree to the degree that you recognize that a change of thinking, of entertaining a change of course, is an action currently taking place. But if you agree to that, which you can find substantiated in ritual studies, e.g., then you will perhaps grant that what you are proving is so far not that any of the audience has been circumcised, but they are in the act of wanting to adopt that course of action because it is good ("you who want to be under Torah..." in 4:21, i.e, want to become proselyes), promising news for how to escape the jam they are in by way of believing Paul's gospel by joining it with proselyte conversion. I do not see any convincing evidence that they have already completed a course of action; then not ironic rebuke but rejection would be the kind of letter to expect from Paul, I think. And there is little reason to suppose that they will come to agree with Paul that they must not be circ., since they already have been, an your argument.

Thanks for your work, and I look forward to your paper at the SBL.

See you in DC,
Mark D. Nanos