Michelle Verkuilen at Liturgical Press was kind enough to send me Raymond Collins new work The Power of Images in Paul. Here is my full length review of the work with an abridged version to follow in a few days. I will also be working through Collins’ 1 Corinthians commentary in the Sacra Pagina series in a few weeks when I finish up my current work on Philippians and move to 1 Corinthians.
The Power of Images in Paul by Raymond Collins. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008. Pp. xv + 307. $49.95.
Raymond Collins, The Power of Images in Paul, is an examination of the many metaphors found in Paul’s letters. Collins examines each of the seven undisputed letters of Paul and the metaphors which they contain. The Power of Images in Paul is divided into three primary sections. In the first section, Collins examines the importance of metaphors in the rhetorical handbooks. He examines Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian and concludes that these three rhetors considered metaphors to be useful tools and outlined guidelines for their proper use. He concludes the chapter with a brief statement concerning Paul and rhetoric in which he states that Paul did not read the works of these three figures but that the appropriate methods of employing metaphors in the Hellenistic world were indeed shaped by these rhetors.
The second section of Collins’ work examines each of Paul’s undisputed letters and the metaphors which they contain. Each letter has multiple headings to easily identify new metaphors. For example he begins with 1 Thessalonians which contains the following headings: siblings, other kinship language, crown of boasting, walking through life, buying a dish, wronging a brother, the great parade, until then, the agon motif, and do not quench the spirit. While the headings are useful and allow for easy reference, it is not always obvious what metaphors they contain. Oftentimes headings will contain multiple unrelated metaphors. For instance, the chapter on Philippians contains the heading, pack of animals. This heading begins with a brief yet interesting discussion about Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:1 to beware the dogs. However, the heading also contains information concerning the following unrelated metaphors: mutilators, rubbish, athletes, and Paul’s belly. Although these are interesting metaphors, including them all under the heading pack of animals may be more confusing than helpful.
The third section of The Power of Images contains a glossary of the various metaphors contained in Paul’s letters. This glossary contains a myriad of metaphors including the senses, the body, construction, finances, and many others. Collins discusses the various letters in which each metaphor appears.
While useful, there are a few problems with Collins’ work. The largest issue concerns the audience of the work. This is not clearly defined by Collins and is difficult to decipher. Many of the metaphors which Collins’ identifies are not analyzed in much depth. There is generally only a page or two for each there is not much interaction with other scholarship, usually one to two references are given to other works. Additionally, the reader is often left with the question, “so what?” In other words, Collins presents the different metaphors Paul employed but does not provide much information as to why Paul would have used the particular metaphor in that context. Collins’ work often reads more like an annotated list of Paul’s metaphors. However, these issues do not need to be a problem if Collins’ audience is the non specialist or if this work is intended as an introduction to Paul’s metaphors. However, if Collins is writing for a less educated audience he has left some problems for his readers. He interacts with Greco-Roman rhetoric both generally and with specific terms such as ethos and pathos which he does not define. Additionally, he refers to writers such as Pseudo-Demetrius with minimal information.
Although Collins does not engage each metaphor with the same depth, there many bright spots throughout the book. Collins’ treatment of the thorn in the flesh from 2 Corinthians is rather robust. He lays out a few of the different possibilities that scholars have put forth for what the thorn might be and then also provides a great number of references for further study on the subject. Additionally, he includes an interesting similar metaphor from Aristotle concerning an unskilled orator who is described as one who “spoke as if he had swallowed a ruler.” (181) Another rather detailed metaphor is that of the potter. Collins spends three pages examining this metaphor found in Romans 9. He examines the role of the potter in antiquity and also the appearance of similar metaphors in the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. I shall leave it to the reader to discover the many other fine examples contained in The Power of Images in Paul.
Collins has certainly provided an informative book for anyone looking to begin a study on the metaphors of Paul. I would recommend this work to two different groups of people. First, anyone interested in a broad survey of all of Paul’s metaphors will find an excellent introduction to the material. Second, for the scholar performing a detailed analysis of any one metaphor this work may be a good starting point for finding other more detailed sources. Thus The Power of Images in Paul may fulfill a dual purpose: an introduction to Paul’s metaphors and a reference work for scholars.