Discussion Notes for Paul and His Communities (2017 version)

Contents

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Online Maps

Interactive Ancient Mediterranean Project (IAM) maps

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Christian Origins and the Academic Study of Religion

1. Why study Christian origins and early Christian writings?

  • Life in the ancient world
  • From insignificant Judean sect to Roman imperial religion to world religion
  • Significance for Western history and civilization

2. What is the academic study of religion, or Religious Studies?

  • Background of the discipline
  • Characteristics of the academic study of religion
  • How do we approach the study of the early Jesus movements within this discipline?

3. Ongoing themes and arguments

  • Literature in context: Genres or types of writings (e.g. Letters, Biographies, Apocalypses)
  • What was it like to be a Christian in the first century or so?
  • Contribution of certain authors, leaders or founders
  • Developments and changes over time (e.g. leadership and women)
  • Diversity in Christian belief and practice
  • Judean-Christian relations
  •  Jesus-followers and Greco-Roman culture

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Paul and his communities in context, part 1: The Judean and Greco-Roman Worlds

Handouts:

Websites:

1. The Greco-Roman world

  • Historical developments
    • Alexander the Great and the impact of Hellenization (from 331 BCE)
    • Roman Rule and the impact of the pax Romana from Augustus on
  • Greco-Roman societies and cultures
    • Social life and the structures of society
    • Honouring the gods (“religious” life)
      • Embedded within everyday life in antiquity
      • Honouring the gods – Intolerance of failure to do so
      • Various forms of cult: Official and unofficial
    • Philosophical life: Stoics, Platonists, Epicureans, Cynics

2. Second-Temple Judean culture

  • Judean culture and Hellenistic culture: Influence and opposition
  • Judean culture and Roman rule in Israel
    • Incidents illustrating tensions: E.g. Josephus, Antiquities 18.55 on Pilate and imperial images; War 2.224-227)
  • Characteristics of Second-Temple Judean culture (“Judaism”)
    • Misrepresentations within scholarship
    • Common characteristics – Four common denominators:  1) Monotheism, 2) Election/land, 3) Covenant/Law, 4) Temple-cult

     

  • Diversity of Judean culture(s):
    • Parties and sects: Saduccees, Pharisees, Essenes (e.g. Josephus, War 2.119, Ant. 18.11-25 on the Judean “philosophies”)
    • Messianic movements (e.g. Ant. 17.269-278 on popular movements and “disorders”;
      Ant. 20.97 on Theudas the prophet / “magician”)
  • The Jesus-movement’s origins within Judean culture
  • Diaspora Judean groups throughout the empire: Cohabitation and conflict

3.  Jesus Groups in their contexts

  • Devotion to Jesus within the context of Judean culture
  • Where did Jesus groups fit (or not fit) within the Greco-Roman
    world?

    • Models from the ancient context: Philosophical school, synagogue, association
  • Jesus-followers through Greco-Roman eyes:
    • Pliny the Younger: A Roman elite perspective (Pliny, Epistles 10.96-97)
    • Popular perceptions:
      • Familiarity: Just another association
      • Peculiarity: Jesus-followers (and Judeans) as “atheists”

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Paul and his communities in context, part 2: Who is Paul and how can we approach his letters?

Handouts:

1.  Who is Paul?:

  • A Hellenistic Judean in the diaspora (remember the slides on Paul’s world)
  • Sources and their problems: Priority of Paul’s own information (over the Acts of the Apostles)
  • The “autobiographical” passages
    • Discussion of Philippians 3:1-16; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12:13; Galatians 1-2

2.  Paul’s relations and tensions with the Jesus movement at Jerusalem

  • Paul’s “announcement” (gospel): Focus on the notion of the resurrection and vindication of Christ (very little focus on the earthly life of Jesus and his sayings); Notion of being “one in Christ”; Inclusion of Gentiles (without requiring circumcision and food laws); Paul’s apostleship / “announcement” and Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem meeting according to Paul and the author of Acts (Galatians 1-2; Acts 15; discussion)

3.  Approaches to the study of Paul, his letters, and his communities

  • Epistolary approaches: Paul’s letters as Hellenistic letters
    • Some ancient Greek letters: Family Letters of Paniskos
    • Structural elements in Paul’s letters:  Opening (greetings and thanksgiving); Closing (greetings and benediction); Body: Recurring types of material (autobiographical statements, travel plans, paraenesis); Traditional material (Christian hymns, sayings, vice/virtue lists)
  • Rhetorical approaches: Paul, the rhetorician
    • The three types of rhetoric corresponding to context and purpose:
      • 1) Judicial:  type of speech used in the law courts to convince judges concerning past events: accusation or defence
      • 2) Deliberative:  type of speech used in the civic context (politics) to persuade people to take a certain future course of action: persuasion or dissuasion
      • 3) Demonstrative (epideictic):  type of speech used in ceremonial contexts (e.g. festival gatherings) to provide pleasure for audiences in the present: praise
        or blame
  • Historical and social-historical approaches: Paul and his communities in their contexts
    • The situations in the assemblies and Paul’s responses to those situations

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Paul and Jesus-followers at Thessalonica

Handouts:

1. Thessalonica, the capital of the province of Macedonia

2. The history of Paul’s relations with the Thessalonian Jesus-followers

  • Before Paul wrote: Acts and the evidence in Paul’s letter

3. The situation of Jesus-followers at Thessalonica

  • Difficulties in reconstructing the historical situation behind Paul’s letters
  • The composition of the Christian groups:
    • Ethnic background and social-economic status
    • Paul’s identification: Paul’s occupation as a handworker and its significance
  • Issues of concern among Jesus-followers:
    • Afflictions: Social harassment
    • Death of fellow members: Apocalyptic outlook

4. Paul’s response to the situation

  • The Rhetoric of the letters
  • Comforting converts faced with affliction or social dislocation:
    • The tone of 1 Thess: “…like a nurse…”; familial language
    • Paul as example
  • Relations with outsiders
  • The paraenetic section (4:1-12): Paul’s instructions and exhortations
  • Paul’s apocalyptic world-view and Christ’s “coming” (parousia):
    • “…concerning those who are asleep…”
    • Apocalypticism: Discussion of Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Community Rule = 1QS III.15-IV.26)

5. Implications

  • The Hellenistic and Judean sides of Paul
  • Paul, the Thessalonian Jesus-followers and their situation: Typical?

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Paul and Jesus-followers at Corinth: 1 Corinthians

1. Corinth, a Roman colony with a Greek past

2. The history of Paul’s relations with the Corinthians

  • Initial visit (cf. Acts 18:1-17) and Paul’s message (1 Cor 15:1-8), Paul’s previous letter (see 1 Cor 5:9 = 2 Cor 6:14-7:1?), Chloe’s report and the letter from some of the Corinthian Jesus-followers, Paul’s second letter (1 Corinthians)
  • After 1 Corinthians: Paul’s third letter (2 Cor 10-13: “super-apostles” and tensions over Paul and financial support/handwork) and fourth letter (2 Cor 1-9: easing of tensions)

3. Situation of Jesus-followers at Corinth

  • The ethnic and social-economic composition of the community
  • Internal divisions and inequalities:  Social, economic, ideological, and other “problems” (in Paul’s eyes)
    • “I belong to Paul” – “I belong to Apollos” (chs. 1-4)
    • Ethical problems (ch. 5): Thou shalt not sleep with thy step-mother
  • The socially “superior” Jesus-followers
    • Court cases (ch. 6)
    • The drunk and the hungry (rich and poor) (11:17-34)
  • The religiously “superior” (spiritual enthusiasts) and their slogans (chs. 7-15)
    • Asceticism: “…it is good not to touch a woman…”
    • Knowledge and wisdom: “…all of us possess knowledge…an idol has no real existence” (the weak and the strong) (chs. 8, 10)
      • Background:  “Idolatry”, sacrificial food and communal meals in Corinthian society (the social context of the religious position); Paul, the Judean, and idolatry
    • Worship and spiritual gifts
    • “…some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead…”

4. Paul’s response: Concord and equality

  • Paul’s deliberative rhetoric and the language of civic discourse
  • The body metaphor and proper order in worship
  • Paul’s defence of his mission: the Corinthians vs. Paul? (chap. 9)

5. Implications

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Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus: Ancient Slavery

Handouts:

Websites:

1. The situation

  • Conditions of ancient slavery
  • Addressees: Christian group in Colossae?
  • Onesimus the runaway slave

2. The response

  • Paul’s letter of recommendation
  • The rhetoric of the letter
    • Request or social pressure: “Paul…to Philemon…and the church in your house”
  • Discussion:  Paul and slavery (Philemon and 1 Cor 7)

3. Implications

  • Paul and the institutions of Greco-Roman society: a person of his time?

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Paul and Jesus-followers in Galatia

1. The province of Galatia in Asia Minor: Celts, Greeks and Romans

2. A history of Paul’s activity pertaining to his letter to the Galatians

  • Northern (ethnic) Galatia or Southern (Phrygian) Galatia?
  • Paul’s journeys in Southern Galatia according to Acts (13:13-14:20; 16:1-6; Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe)
  • The Jerusalem meeting (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-35), Judean Jesus-followers and Paul’s collection (see Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:23-32)

3. The situation in the churches

  • Ethnic identity of Jesus-followers (cf. 4:8)
  • The “circumcision party” (opponents/Judaizers) with a “different gospel”
  • The primary issue is circumcision as an entrance requirement into the community of God and sign of favoured status (not salvation after death through works)
    • Avoiding a 16th century interpretation of the situation: A reminder concerning the nature of ancient Judean culture
    • Rationale of the opponents: Circumcision, proselytes and God-fearers in Judean culture

4. Paul’s response

  • Paul’s tone: “O foolish Galatians!”
  • Paul’s methods: Hellenistic rhetoric; Judean biblical interpretation
  • Paul, the Law and the Gentiles: Circumcision is not an entrance requirement
    • Paul’s defence of his circumcision-free gospel
    • The issue of the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God (the mission to the Gentiles) as the guiding principle in Paul’s view
  • God’s primary covenant-promise to Abraham (Gen 15):  The blessing of Abraham – faith (not circumcision = “works of law”) as the true sign of being sons of Abraham
    and members of God’s community
  • The secondary covenant, circumcision (Gen 17) and the Law at Mount Sinai: “the law was our custodian until Christ came”
    • Allegorical interpretation of scripture: Sarah and Hagar

5. Implications

  • Paul and Judean culture/Torah: antithetical?
  • Paul, the Gentiles and Israel (comparison with Romans 9-11)

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Paul and Jesus-followers at Rome

Handouts:

Websites:

1. The city of Rome, capital of the empire

2. The situation at Rome that led Paul to write his letter

  • Traditional views: Romans as a summary of Paul’s theology
  • New view: Romans as a response to a concrete situation

1) Situation among Judeans at Rome

  • Synagogues (about 10-15 attested, some based on district, others on geographical links)
  • Origins of earliest groups of Jesus-followers within Judean gatherings (e.g. Prisca and Aquila)
  • Scholarly theories, including the issue of Roman authorities’ actions or expulsions (see Suetonius and Acts 18:2; Dio Cassius on restriction of meetings; collegia):
    • Wolfgang Wiefel’s thesis: Return of expelled Judeans to predominantly Greek groups of Jesus-followers after expulsion relating to conflicts over “Christ” (of 49
      CE, or 47-50 CE)
    • Philip Esler’s proposal: Whether expulsion or not, still ethnic conflict; Judean synagogues and Jesus-follower house-churches

2) Situation within groups of Jesus-followers

  • Identity of Paul’s addressees  and the house churches at Rome (Romans 16)
    • 26 identified individuals: 7 probably Judeans, Latin names, Greek names
    • Primary addressees as Greeks
  • Divisions and tensions along ethnic lines (Greeks vs. Judeans) as the primary issue
    • Greeks feeling superior to Judeans: Case of the food laws in chapters 14-15 (contrast situation at Galatia)

3. Paul’s response

  • Paul’s purposes in writing (Going west, collection for Jerusalem, address ethnic conflict)
  • Rhetoric and the diatribe (imaginary opponents and hypothetical objections)
  • Paul, the Law and second-Temple Judean culture (again!?)
  • Paul’s response to the divisions and claims of superiority: To the Judean first and also to the Greek” – “God shows no partiality”

1) Gentiles (Greeks) and Judeans equally under the power of sin and in need of reconciliation by faith (ch. 1-8)

  • Gentiles (Greeks) wicked and guilty: Idolatry and sexual immorality (1-2:16)
  • Judeans also under the power of sin (2:17-3:20)
    •  “What is the value of circumcision?  Much in every way.” (3:1)
    •  “Are we Judeans any better off?  No, not at all.” (3:9)
    • “For there is no distinction”: Made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, not by law (3:21-31)
    • Abraham as the “father of us all”, both Judeans and Gentiles (4)
    • Christ as the second Adam in Paul’s typological thinking (5)
    • Dead to sin (6): Baptism in Paul’s view and the context of this ritual (also see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28)
  • Sin as a power (7)
  • Flesh and spirit: Children of God (8)

2) If Judeans and Gentiles are on equal footing, what is the place of Israel within God’s salvation history (ch. 9-11)

  •   The remnant and Israel’s stumble (9)
  •   “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11)
  •   Israel stumbles but does not fall: “all Israel will be saved”
    •   Israel’s stumble is the Gentiles’ gain
      •   The olive tree analogy: “do not become proud” (11:20)
      •   Mercy: “all Israel will be saved” (11:26)

3) Parenesis and moral exhortation (12-13)

  • “I bid everyone . . . not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (12:3)
  • “Be subject to the governing authorities” (13:1): Paul’s civic advice in context
  • Fulfill the law (13:8-10)

4) The “strong” and the “weak”: Gentiles and Judeans respecting one another (ch. 14-15)

4. Implications: Paul and his communities in retrospect

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Legacies of Paul, part 1: The Acts of Paul and Thecla

Handouts:

Websites:

1. Legacies of Paul: The “battle” for Paul – “The Acts of Paul and Thecla” vs. the Pastoral epistles

2. The Acts of Paul: Introductory matters

  • Genre: Apocryphal Acts and the ancient novel
  • Date: (c. 160-200 CE), authorship, and use
  • Content of the Acts of Paul:  Paul and Thecla; Lion at Ephesus; Paul’s martyrdom
  • The Thecla episodes:
    • Earlier oral traditions underlying the Acts of Paul and Thecla: The story tellers behind the stories

3.  Women, leadership, and group-society relations: Thecla and the Pastorals

  • Alternate portraits of Paul and realities of women’s lives in the Christian communities
  • Women’s leadership and the relationship between Christian groups and society
  • Greco-Roman perceptions and varying responses (Aelius Aristides and Celsus on women and Jesus groups)
  •  Discussion of key themes in the Thecla episodes:

(1) Sexuality, marriage, and asceticism

  • “Blessed are those who have kept the flesh chaste. . .
  • Turning the novel’s love theme on its head: Kissing Paul’s bonds
  • Chastity and society: “Overturning the city”
  • Pastoral epistles: Domestic women (1 Tim 2:15; 4:1-5; Titus 2:3-5)

(2) Women’s roles and leadership

  • Thecla, the leader and teacher: “Go and preach!”
  • Questions of gender: The “manly” Thecla?
  • Historical context: The Phrygian (Montanist) movement and women prophets in Asia Minor
  • Pastorals:
    • Subverting the “old wives’ tales” (1 Tim 4:7-8; 5:13-16; 2 Tim 3:4-9)
    • Silent and domestic women: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men” (1 Tim 2:11-15)

(3) Church-society relations and conflicts

  • Thecla: Overturning Greco-Roman society
  • Pastorals: Greco-Roman values and alleviation of group-society tensions (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 3:7; Titus 3:1)

4. Conclusions:  Would the real Paul please stand up?

  • Comparing Pauls:   Paul’s letters; Pastoral epistles; Canonical Acts; Apocryphal Acts
  • Discussion: Women in groups of Jesus-followers

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Legacies of Paul, part 2: Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles

Handouts:

Websites:

1. The legacy of Paul and the Pauline tradition

  • Collection and use of Paul’s letters
  • Importance and use of the figure of Paul in subsequent debates: The “battle” for Paul
  • So many Pauls, so little time
    • The Pauline “school” and the deutero-Pauline writings
    • Pseudonymity in ancient literature
      • Factors in assessing pseudonymity:
        • 1. Language and style; 2. Ideology / theology; 3) Situations, developments, anachronisms (e.g. church order, household codes, etc.)
        • Possible or likely New Testament examples: 2 Thessalonians; Colossians; Ephesians; Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • Key developments after Paul:
    • 1. Development of ideas (e.g. Christology) and focus on “sound doctrine”
    • 2. Importance of household structures
    • 3. Institutionalization and leadership structures (church order)

2. Cities of western Asia Minor

  • The civic context
  • Judean groups in the cities
  • Varieties of Jesus devotion in Asia Minor (e.g. Revelation, John’s epistles, 1 Peter, Ignatius’ epistles, Martyrdom of Polycarp)

3. Colossians and Ephesians

  • Colossians
    • Situation: the “philosophy” and practices of the opponents (2:8-23)
      • Early form of gnosticism?
      • Syncretistic rituals and beliefs regarding benevolent and malevolent beings
        • Angels in the religious life of Asia Minor
    • Response: Christ has disarmed the principalities and powers
      • The Christ-hymn of 1:15-20
  • Ephesians
    • Discussion: Post-Pauline Christian groups and the structures of the household (Household codes: Col. 3:18-4:1; Eph. 5:22-6:9; cf. 1 Peter)

  4. Pastoral epistles

  • Discussion:  Leadership structures – The Pastoral epistles as a window into developments in the late first century
  • Situation: Opponents / false teachers –  Myths, knowledge, asceticism and women
  • Response: Sound doctrine, household management and proper church order

5. Implications

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