1 Corinthians


Today I read an interesting article by Paul Hartog titled “Not Even Among the Pagans (1 Cor 5:1): Paul and Seneca on Incest” in the 2006  festschrift for David Aune, The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context.  Hartog rightly proposes that Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 5:1 concerning incest “that it is not found even among pagans”  should be recognized as a rhetorical technique for emphasizing boundaries.  After outlining the aversion to incest by Jews, Greeks, and Romans, Hartog rightly concludes that Paul “attempts to shame the Corinthian Christians with the cultural aversion to incest.” (62).  Hartog supports his conclusion by highlighting a similar statement in Seneca’s Phaedra 165-173.  In this passage Seneca has Phaedra’s nurse tell her that incest between stepson and stepmother is so abhorrent that even barbarian tribes such as the Getae, Taurians, or Scythians condemn it.  This passage is important because it appears to be another example of a contemporary author employing the same rhetorical device in order to shame someone with regards to stepson – stepmother incest.  Hartog’s piece is excellent for anyone seeking a review of the various examples of the prohibition of incest in Jewish and Greco-Roman sources.  Additionally, Hartog provides a compelling argument for reading Paul’s prohibition through the lens of rhetoric as a means for shaming and solidifying boundaries.

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I’ll be teaching a course this winter focusing on the various themes in 1 Corinthians. In the process the students will read all of Paul’s letters. I will be assigning a few commentaries on 1 Corinthians which they can choose from. At the moment I am considering Thiselton, Fitzmyer, Garland, and Collins. Fee’s NIV commentary does not make the cut due to its miniscule introduction. Additionally, I will assign the students some variant of the NRSV.

This is where I could use some advice. I am currently considering having the students read the entries on each of Paul’s letters from the Anchor Bible Dictionary. These entries provide the students with the type of information I want them to have. However, I would prefer either assigning a study bible which contains detailed introductions or a textbook which focuses on issues such as the purpose and historical background of each of the letters. I have looked at the Harper Collins Study Bible and the Oxford annotated Bible and both have too short of an introduction.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

I am not going to create a post everytime I change the picture of the book recommendation, but I figure that I should for the first couple of new recommendations.  Today’s recommendation is Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation by Margaret M. Mitchell.  In this work Mitchell examines 1 Corinthians through the lens of deliberative rhetoric.  For anyone looking for a model of how one can implement the formal aspects of rhetorical criticism into their research, look no further.  If nothing else her five “mandates for rhetorical criticism” are quite useful.  I find her second rule to be the most useful: “Actual speeches and letters from antiquity must be consulted along with the rhetorical handbooks through the investigation.”

There are always a number of new books that come out every month which look interesting.  However, as one on a limited budget I rarely rush out and purchase them.  But two books have especially caught my attention and I will be purchasing them in the very near future (and hopefully finding the time to read and review them as well).  Fitzmyers’ 1 Corinthians commentary looks excellent and should be a nice compliment to Thiselton’s commentary.  The other book that has piqued my interest is Ramsay McMullen’s The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400.  I am eager to examine the non-literary evidence he has compiled and how it compares to the literary evidence that describes the period.  I also find the title interesting.  Are we still using A.D. in published works?  I thought we had officially changed to the B.C.E – C.E. system.

With Easter Sunday having just passed there are normally a slew of programs about the life of Jesus.  Inevitably there are people who pose questions such as: do we really know Jesus even existed and did he have children (oh how the Da Vinci code brought endless questions on this matter)?  While reading 1 Corinthians this week I realized that 1 Corinthians 9:5 seems to provide evidence that at least Paul did not think Jesus was married and I am curious why this is not the first piece of evidence marshaled to counter any claims that Jesus was married.  (Of course the fact that Jesus is not portrayed as having a wife in the Gospels is pretty compelling on its own!)

1 Cor 9:5 (NRSV) Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

This passage occurs in the context of Paul defending his rights as an apostle.  The most common reading of this passage is that the brothers of Jesus, Peter, and at least some of the other apostles had wives.  More specifically commentators stress the fact that these wives travelled with them.  If Paul is citing examples of other important Christians who have wives it seems that Jesus would be at the front of this list if he had a wife.  I suppose it is possible that one could argue that Jesus had a wife who did not travel with him, but I suspect Paul would have reworked this sentence to include Jesus if he had a wife.  Possibly this is the first passage used to counter any claims concerning Jesus and marriage however I have not heard it used in this context.

I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter, my daughter certainly enjoyed her first Easter.