OPEN QUESTION: The problem of Paul’s audience

This is not a normal post here.  I wish to pose an open question for others to respond to and I hope that it will benefit my own research and those who engage in the same sorts of issues that this question involves.

QUESTION: How do we account for the Jewishness of Paul’s letters given that Paul is apostle to Gentiles?  This is a question that pertains not only to Paul’s own influences in Judaism, but how he expected his audience to understand his letters that are saturated (some more than others) with Jewish terms, imagery, quotes, allusions, echoes, stories and characters.  I am not looking for easy answers – I am aware of many opinions on this matter.  For those that simply say that Paul’s audiences were ‘godfearers’, what do you do with Philippians?  For those that say he taught them to Scriptures himself, what do you do with Romans and Colossians?

It happened, by chance, that I was (and am) reviewing two books at the same time: Bruce Malina and John Pilch’s Social-Science Commentary on Paul and Andrew Das’s Solving the Romans Debate – both are arguing for extreme positions.  Malina and Pilch (MP), as a major theme in their commentary, argue that Paul was not apostle to Gentiles, but rather he was apostle to Hellenized Jews in the Diaspora.  They argue, in part, that the Greek Hellen in Paul does not refer to Gentiles or Greeks but ‘Hellenized’ or ‘sophisticated’ persons – in Paul’s context Jews.  Keep in mind MP makes no reference to Acts in this assessment.  Therefore, all of Paul’s (undisputed) letters are written to Jews except minor references to Gentiles in Romans.  Therefore, Malina and Pilch’s Paul is a ‘change agent’ to Jews with little interest in Gentiles if any.  Quite a bold statement, and I don’t offer a flattering review (see next Themelios).

Contrast this with Das’s handling of the Romans Debate with interest in the ‘encoded’ or ‘implied’ audience of Romans.  What kind of congregation did Paul think he was writing to.  Most commentators opt for a mix – some Jews and some Gentiles.  Scholars fall all along the spectrum as to the balance, but Das argues that Paul writes exclusively to Gentiles.  He attempts to deal with every passage that seems to consider Jews as among the audience.  The Jewish interlocuter is hypothetical – not directly addressed.  The ‘weak’ in the latter chapters are Gentile law-observers – not Jews.  So Das is advocating a position in stark contrast to Malina and Pilch.

I wish to develop, with your help, criteria for discerning the audience of Paul’s letters (with the principles applied to each letter on its own, of course).  Some criteria would be internal, of course.  Others may be external to the letter.

I wish for comments to follow this guide: (1) assume the issue is more complicated than a simple remark; (2) Please cite books and scholars when stating an opinion, there is little consensus (anymore); (3) It is OK to raise more questions, but please keep it on this topic as close as possible.

I will look forward to any feedback provided.  Just to confirm that this is a ‘hot’ issue right now, at SBL in Vienna the chap that is reading after me (Bas van Os) is discussing the audience of Galatians where he believes ‘it is likely that early Christian groups, including the communities addressed in Paul’s letters, were to a large extent Jewish. In the present paper, I will examine how the rhetoric of Paul and his opponents worked for Jewish recipients of the letter.’


SBL in Vienna – program posted

For those interested in SBL in Vienna this summer, the program has just recently been posted on the website:

Our very own Rob Barrett, Loren Stuckenbruck and Elena Narinskaya will be presenting (as well as yours truly). What I am most excited about is a session on Jesus with a panel of expert scholars from around the world (the world meaning Europe and America…)

Christopher Tuckett, University of Oxford
Jesus and the Sabbath (45 min)
Heikki Räisänen, University of Helsinki
Jesus and Hell (45 min)
Break (30 min)
Michael Labahn, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Jesus as God’s Eschatological Creator of Change: Memories and Stories of Healing and Exorcism in Context (45 min)
Stanley Porter, McMaster Divinity College
Jesus and Resurrection (45 min)

Also, Darrell Bock will be speaking on what Jesus did that led to his condemnation, Don Hagner on the Synoptics, James Charlesworth on ‘enemies’ in the Gospels,  James M Scott on ‘Jesus and Dionysus’, Beverly Gaventa on Paul’s apocalyptic theology in Romans, Wendell Willis on Philippians and cultural values, John Kloppenborg on the Parables, Gerd Theissen on the historical Jesus and later on the letter to the Romans, and Christopher Stanley on the terms ‘echo’ and ‘allusion’ in Pauline scholarship and the problem of distinguishing and defining them.  This is just a sample.  It looks to be a good group.

German at Durham

I received a question about learning German and I thought I could present my thoughts in this post.

Question #1: How do Durham students learn German??

Let me say, right away, there is no ‘norm’. It sounds very post-modern, but its all about you, your learning style, and your needs in terms of your thesis. But, that having been said, there are some popular choices. First, this past year a study here (who is excellent at German) was offering some courses at various levels that were just for our department. He is doing the same for French. I did not sit in on this course, but Ben Blackwell would know more since he did sit in on a course. Second, I know one student here who spent time at a Goethe Institute (in Berlin) and I’m sure he gained much from it, but it is expensive. Third, I would many (including me) opt for just getting your hands dirty and doing it on your own – though most of us lack the discipline for it, not the intelligence. I have given you a representative sample of only a handful of students because I just don’t know that many more students here! Remember, this is still my first year! To sum up, John Barclay recommended to us newbies the course on German taught in our department and many decided to give it a go. I hope to do so next year.

Question #2: What would I (and others here) recommend? Ben and I have talked about this, and he wishes to go to Germany and immerse himself and hopefully do a Goethe course. But, he has a family so its complicated! I know the feeling! As for me, I think it would depend on a lot of factors – learning style, what you wish to accomplish, money (as you mentioned), time to spend away from other learning needs, etc… As for me, I learn best on my own, but sometimes I do lack the discipline to prioritise German. I am also keeping up on my Greek (with daily translation) and I am trying to learn Coptic (just at the beginning right now).

Question #3: Do most students find theological German sufficient, or even worthwhile?

I’m not sure I understand the question exactly, but as you may have been told, you could heardly succeed in passing your viva without any German-written research integrated into your work. If you are asking if learning a very basic form of theological German going to be enough – well, it depends on how much your thesis depends on the arguments and counter-arguments that have taken place (and perhaps still do) in German literature. This may be just a guess, and may not be helpful at all, but I think that at least 10% of your bibliography should have non-English works – but everyone is different; this is just an observation. When I asked a former Durham student how he managed, he said something along the lines of ‘Pay someone to translate it for you!’ 🙂 As for the Goethe Institute, there are a number of different kinds of programs from large group programs of several weeks to intensive one-on-one tutoring. Of course the smaller the group and longer the stay, the more you will get out of it. But, the more focused the option, the more expensive and it can get really pricey. I can’t really recommend it one way or another, since I have never been there. If I had the money (which I don’t), and I had the time (which I don’t either), I would really love to do it.

Question #4: How long does it take to develop reading knowledge in German? This is a very complex question and, unfortunately for you, I have to be post-modern again – its about you, your skills, and your needs. There is little agreement about what really counts as proficiency in German. Also, it depends on how much time you are spending per day or per week. Some will feel the need to drop everything and spend an entire summer [re-]learning German. Others will study bit by bit for 18 months. Also, it depends on how many other languages you have learned and if you have a skill in language acquisition. I think the more languages you have learned, the better off you are because you learn how you learn. You know your best strategies for memorisation of vocab and paradigms. That having been said, I (personally) think that a person has basic proficiency if he or she can translate with the aid of a dictionary at the rate of 1 page every 20 minutes. This is harded than it sounds! I am probably double that right now, maybe longer. I studied German originally as an independent-credit course in Seminary. I worked through April Wilson’s German Quickly and I did some passages from Zeifle’s Theological German Reader. That was a good start. I would say someone could learn German for reading in three months at a relatively intensive rate. But, there is a difference between reading a newspaper and reading complex German theological treatises from the 18th century!

Question #5: Are there self-teaching tools I would recommend? First, I would say don’t build your hopes on popular software programs – you will spend your time (and money) learning words like ‘hotel’ and ‘restaurant’, when you need to learn words like ‘parable’ and ‘propitiation’. But, there is some usefulness to learning pronunciation of words (which facilitates memorisation) and it is fun to try and learn to speak. But, remember, your goal is not to understand and respond in a conversation. It is to read technical scholarly works! I would stick to German textbooks that aim at reading knowledge. I highly recommend April Wilson’s book. Her reading passages have a lot of religious reading passages.

Final thoughts: There are many great webresources for aiding your study and use of German.  Altavistas Babelfish ( translates sentences that you supply, though it is far from completely reliable.  It can also translate a whole webpage for you.  But, this should not replace your own learning, just complement it or for trying to manage a tricky phrase – however, the thing you need it for most (difficult phrases) it is the least helpful for!  Also, a German evangelist (Roland Werner) once told me that the best way to learn a language is to get a basic grasp of the grammar (through a textbook) and then read through the Bible in that language starting with the Gospels.  He said, because the Gospels have so much repetition (esp. in the Synoptics) that by the time you get to Luke you will be able to read quite a bit without help.  I have done this a bit and he is right!  Finally, the after learning a basic grammar, I have just selected a few articles I know will aid me and I am just chipping away at them.  Remember, this isn’t exegesis – you don’t need to translate meticulously with 100% accuracy.  You just need to know the argument presented and the flow of the evidence.  Also, pre-checking with NT Abstracts and book reviews will make sure your translation is on the right track!  Good luck!