Description and Redescription – the classic interrelated activities that animate critical scholarship on religion. This roundtable affords the chance to examine two books that push the descriptive and redescriptive envelopes in their sectors of biblical studies. Matthew Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentile Problem rigorously describes Paul’s discourses about the Jewish law and Gentiles, while David Kaden’s Matthew, Paul, and the Anthropology of Law innovatively redescribes Paul and Matthew’s discourses about the Jewish law with theoretical resources from Jonathan Z. Smith, Michel Foucault, and the anthropology of law. ...I quote just one observation that I found particularly thought provoking:
It is one thing for us modern scholars to persuade ourselves about what is going on in Paul’s letters by investigating how he (as a literate intellectual) may have accessed his ancestral writings and how his interpretive activity may have significantly shaped his writings to Gentiles. In this case, our experiments with excavating possible textual allusions and Paul’s potential transmission and transformation of “traditions” may be crucial. But it is another thing to presume that Paul’s persuasiveness to his (largely illiterate) ancient consumers necessarily turned on their ability to recognize these finely-grained, textual-interpretive steps that we modern scholars devote journal articles and academic monographs to elucidating. Thiessen could more precisely combine his exhaustive comparative readings with an exploration of Paul’s persuasiveness through a sensitivity to practices themselves; practices associated with sacred writings in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.Yes, Paul was an educated member of the elite. What made his message persuasive to so many uneducated, lower-status people? I doubt that it was his sophisticated scriptural exegesis.
This is another instalment in AJR's series from the SBL 2016 Pauline Epistles Review Panel. I noted earlier essays in the series here and links.
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