Saturday, September 28, 2013

“Paradigm shifts” in Pauline studies

“Pauline studies have undergone major changes in recent times. Which new research topics and methods would you especially highlight? Would you, moreover, agree to speak of a paradigm shift?”

So a number of scholars were asked, and many responded by pointing to a “rediscovery” of “Paul’s Jewishness” (it’s a great webpage to read, by the way, including some very informative responses. “Click and read” as God said to Augustine)

However, although this “paradigm shift” has helped sharpen a methodology of analysis which, thanks also to new resources, has been somewhat helpful sometimes, I am sceptical that it is any more than that.

Here are a few matters which I think may help genuine paradigm shifts in coming decades (though time has a way of proving such predictions woefully wrong, so we shall see!)

  • A renewed focus on the phenomenon of Paul’s letters. Adolf Schlatter contended that for NT theology and exegesis ‘the hardest thing to observe is often right in front of our eyes’. Yes and amen. So many PhDs in NT studies spend 90% of their word limit analysing a new fangled hermeneutical prism though which, the last 10% refracts some supposedly “relevant” Pauline passage. And tah dah, we have am “original” proposal. But Paul’s letters, and themes within them, are thereby ironically often lost largely from sight in one’s reconstruction of Pauline language. This has had pernicious effects, for example, on some Pauline Christology debates.
  • A rejection of a limitation to the so-called 7 undisputed letters. We have to do it: write a PhD on Paul and you had better not pretend Ephesians etc. is Pauline or you will get laughed out of town (esp. in Germany and certain Anglo-American circles). But although I have profound doubts about the “authenticity” of the Pastorals, it is high time at least that Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and yes, Ephesians, be reintroduced into substantial Pauline theology discussion.
  • The interpretative significance of the theological dimension of Paul’s language. That the “object” of Paul’s language involves interpretative corollaries is an area which truly could create a “paradigm shift”. To my mind, this is one reason why Douglas Campbell’s work is so significant. Paul writes about God, and the more we pretend that significant meditation on the theological (and therefore also ethical) implications of our exegesis are unimportant, the further we move from the phenomenon of the letters themselves (so my first bullet point).

I could go and on mention a vigorous appreciation for the contingent, a consistent rejection of the etymological myth (Barr) etc. and I am also assuming that a reading of Paul in terms of his second Temple “encyclopaedia” (to use Eco’s language) is indeed essential, and rightly highlighted by many of the above webpage’s respondents. But if that is all there is to “major changes in recent times”, then heaven help us.


At 9/28/2013 7:22 PM, Blogger Jim said...

bravo. too many are too ignorant of the history of the discipline.

At 9/28/2013 8:09 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Ah, yes. I knew instantly which Jim would have made the comment above. Jim implies that he is not among the many who are "too ignorant".

More importantly, while people are more aware of Paul's Jewishness than they used to be, they still seem to assume a theological gulf between Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders. I thank we need a new paradigm here that recognizes that both he and they were on the same page. Indeed, Paul and the zealous believers of Acts 21:20-22 may have been in agreement too. Too many seem to enjoy the heady thrill of "discovering" deep divisions between Paul and Jerusalem.

At 9/28/2013 9:55 PM, Blogger Keen Reader said...

Well, one is either ignorant or not. There's no such thing as "too ignorant."

At 9/28/2013 9:58 PM, Blogger Keen Reader said...

More to the point, has any of this, published in enormous tree-destroying tome after enormous tree-destroying tome, filtered down to the average person in the pew?

Nope. Not a word.

At 9/28/2013 10:42 PM, Blogger r.campbell said...

That's very interesting. I was taught about the need to be sensitive to Judaism in graduate school in the 80s (by Richard Longenecker). He had written about this in his doctorate, published in 1961. He had been dependent in turn on W. D. Davies, whose key work was published in 1946. However, WD was by no means the first. George Foot Moore wrote a nice piece summarizing most of the key issues in 1911. To be sure, the point only got traction in 1977, with the advent of E. P. Sanders. But even that is not exactly recent. It is about as up to date as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; indeed, does anyone remember Uriah Heep? Or The Moody Blues? It's basically a 70s agenda. We surely have to reckon since then with the post-modern turn. And I wonder if neurobiology isn't going to be a major new wave. We're also very behind in NT studies on computer-assisted work. And the ecological front is new. Also a non-binary engagement with gender issues is overdue. Those would be my suggestions, at any rate.

At 9/28/2013 10:42 PM, Blogger r.campbell said...

Sorry, that was me: Douglas.

At 9/29/2013 5:28 AM, Blogger James Goetz said...

Chris, I never took an extensive look at Pauline authorship but took a careful look at it. In any case, I thought the arguments against Pauline authorship of Colossians looked unnecessarily presumptuous and I concluded that nothing written in the traditional Pauline letters could not have been written by Paul. Nonetheless, I am glad that I can find credible references for the genuineness of Pauline authorship for Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Ephesians, which rank among my favorite books of the Bible. :-)

At 9/29/2013 5:51 AM, Blogger James Goetz said...

Or oops is this just a prediction and not yet established with credible references? I need to ask, what are the credible references that support the Pauline authorship of Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Ephesians? Peace, Jim

At 9/30/2013 6:58 AM, Blogger James Goetz said...

Okay, I found one solid reference in the NT Wright chapter linked to your 9/21/13 post :-)

At 10/04/2013 4:29 PM, Blogger ἐκκλησία said...

Quote: "So a number of scholars were asked, and many responded by pointing to a “rediscovery” of “Paul’s Jewishness”"

True, except that Paul's Jewishness scholars are rediscovering, at worst looks suspiciously like modern Judaism, at best like a bad facsimile of ancient Pharisaism.

It is the modern perceptions of Judaism being projected onto Paul. Ironically, Paul rejected his Pharisaism in favour of Jesus' exegesis of old covenant law, so even if this perception was accurate, it did not define Paul, it defined Saul.

At 10/05/2013 11:50 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Douglas, "neurobiology"?! I'm fascinated by what you might mean - anything to do with Colleen Shantz's book?

At 10/07/2013 5:36 PM, Blogger r.campbell said...

Er, no. I like Colleen but I'm not sure her research is on the right track - very reductionist. I'm suggesting a dialogue with the recent advances in our understanding of the brain. Another way of putting this would be to suggest we read behavioral economics - Kahneman and the like. Critically of course. (Excuse the US spelling.) His book Thinking, Fast and Slow, is pretty interesting.


At 10/07/2013 5:41 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Ah, now I understand you! Related: The Political Mind by Lakoff (I think you put me on to that one) was absolutely fascinating


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