Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Competitive Acculturation, Part 2: Alcinous and the Stoics on Good Emotions

[Warning! going turbo nerd again:] Remember that in a previous post (long ago, in a time far far away...[here]) I cited Thiessen’s definition of competitive syncretism as: “Rivals in the marketplace in part resemble one another ... They have to 'imitate' one another in order to outdo one another in the imitation” (A Theory of Primitive Religion; p. 49). In this earlier post, I used Thiessen’s definition as a template and but jettisoned the problematic term ‘syncretism’ to give the category competitive acculturation. Here in this post, I would like to give an example of competitive acculturation from ancient philosophical discourse (a long overdue post).
   Here is a quotation from the Middle Platonist Alcinous in his handbook on Platonism entitled the Didaskalikos. Here he pokes fun at his rivals, the Stoics, on what constitutes the basis for human flourishing (εδαιμονα):
  • Contemplation (θεωρα), then, is the activity of the mind when it intelligizes the intelligibles, but practice (πρξις) is the activity of the rational soul which happens through the body. The soul which contemplates the divine and the thoughts of the divine is said to be in a good state (επαθεν), and this state of the soul is called ‘wisdom’ (φρνησις), and this, one may say, is none other than assimilation to the divine.Alcinous, Didask. 2.2 (= Whittaker 153.2–9; Eng. trans. follows Dillon, Alcinous, p. 4)
The key word that is the hinge text for competitive acculturation is επαθεν. In the thematic context of  the passage: when are human beings at their best? (you can call it “living according to virtue” like the Stoics, or call it “assimiliation to the divine” as the Middle Platonists do), the Stoics and Platonists had contrasting views on the τλος or end/goal of life. The Stoics believed if we extirpated harmful emotions completely, and are ruled only by rational good emotions called the επθειαι, then we can live life according to virtue and be fully human.
   According to the Stoics, the sage could experience some “good emotions” or “good affective states” called επθειαι – i.e., joy (χαρ), willfulness (βολησις), and caution (ελβεια) – which stood as the positive counterparts to the harmful the passions of the soul which threaten to derail human life and character, namely, pleasure, lust, fear and grief. That is, joy stood as the positive counterpart to pleasure, willfulness to lust/desire, and caution to fear, with no apparent equivalent επάθος corresponding to grief (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives 7.116; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations. 4.12-14; note: Cicero translates επθειαι as constantiae or "stable states").
Roman copy (1st cent. AD) of a Hellenistic original (200 BC)
Head of Chrysippus, 2nd successor of the Stoa
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2010 British Museum
   So here is the punchline: in philosophical discourse, the Stoics own the language of the επθειαι. It would be impossible for the philosophically informed reader to miss the allusion then of Alcinous to the Stoic doctrine of the good emotions with his use of the word επαθεν especially in the context of the discourse: what does it mean to flourish as a human being.
   Alcinous effectively says the Stoics are wrong. Good emotions are inadequate. We do not reach our potential until we participate and commune with the divine through the process of contemplation (θεωρα = how the mind sees the transcendent world and models its life after what it sees). Ethical practice (πρξις) is important but secondary to the contemplative life which provides a paradigm for moral living. If we see what beauty, goodness, and justice is in the transcendent Forms of Beauty, Goodness, and Justice, then we can shape our souls and govern society according to the beauty, goodness and justice we see.
   So the example or case for competitive acculturation works if one can demonstrate that:
  1. a particular group (philosophical, political or religious) owns the terminology or language like the Stoics did for the terms επθειαι επάθος
  2. a rival group uses the same language in a literary context that evokes the discourse of their competing interlocutors (in this case, what is the τλος or end/goal of life? what is human flourishing?)
  3. the rival group offers an alternative solution or thesis in contradistinction to the solution offered by the other group (Alcinous posits theoria as the key to human flourishing not the good emotions of the Stoics)
  4. often times there is a double entendre or word play: “the good state” (επαθεν) of a human being is not the Stoic good emotions (επθειαι) and extirpation of the passions but the Platonic mind’s assimilation to the divine. 
The question, then, is with Paul’s use of such charged words as εαγγλιον (gospel), ερνη (peace), κριος (Lord), σωτρ (Savior), κτλ., did Paul consciously pit his gospel against the good news of the imperial cult? Did the imperial cult own this language? or do these terms find wider currency elsewhere? Going beyond whether Paul had an anti-imperial gospel or not, do current claims to find any Greco-Roman allusion in Paul which are competitive meet all or some of the above conditions distilled from Alcinous’ interaction with his Stoic rivals?
   We are still, in the end, just scratching the surface of how methodologically do we approach the problem and detection of Greco-Roman allusions in Paul, but I thought this example would give us some food for thought to move forward on the issue.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Need to Recharge but I Will Be Back!

Whew! I never thought writing out grant applications would be so labor-intensive but for the most part, I spent the entire Spring reading week either writing my monograph or drafting my proposal for some grants. I'm pooped! I need a recharge since my batteries are running low...
BayMax: Feeling Low on Energy... My Batteries Need Recharging
(Screen capture from the trailer to Disney's upcoming Big Hero 6 movie)
I have a Sabbatical semester off in the next academic year but I would like to extend that to another semester and hence the grant proposal writing. In any case, let me catch my breath and I'll be back to blogging soon. But right now, I feel like BayMax from the upcoming Big Hero 6 movie (photo above; trailer here). Peace!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Selfie and Shelfie from the Classics Reading Room

I'm behind in my writing schedule, so I'm here in the Classics Reading Room at the University of Chicago this late Friday night working on a monograph and trying to write some grant proposals as well. Though this is not my first time to the Regenstein library on the UofC campus, I have to say, every time I come to do research here, I just marvel at their classics collection. Behind me is every primary source for Philodemus available in print all on one shelf and in the lower left corner is the entire set of Galen's Opera Omnia, and to the right upper corner are edited volumes for the hellenistic Stoic Posidonius, and so on. In short, everything I could ever dream of having in one place is right here with me in the reading room. I wish I could live here but I have a family to go back to at home.
   Nevertheless, I thought I would include a selfie of me working here, and shelfie of just one part of the reading room. 
A shelfie of the Classics Reading Room at the University of Chicago
with my laptop, caffeine supply, and notes up front

Selfie: all work, no play,
but don't call me Jack
By the way, since I'm behind on my research, I'll probably not start posting again on Paul Redux until another week. In the meanwhile, there is still a chance to vote on the next series (vote here). If I get no takers/votes, I might just opt to do something random each week rather than focus on either the ancient war machine or ancient traveling. We shall see!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Paul Redux Passes 15,000+ Pageviews

A Byzantine fortress on the Acrocorinth in Greece
and the background photo of the Paul Redux twitter feed
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2014 Acrocorinth
Well, it might be small numbers and a small accomplishment to many, but I'm quite delighted to celebrate a pleasant surprise: today, the Paul Redux blog reached 15,000+ pageviews! I'm glad that so many find the blog helpful, including current and past students, and new friends. It has also received a fair number of international readers. Here's a breakdown of the top 10 countries that have viewed the blog: 
Top 10 Countries reading Paul Redux (Oct 2, 2014)
Also, the most read post was the one entitled "More Pastoral Reflections on the Life of the Slave." Apparently there were many interested in my small diagram on the Roman patronage system and might have been surprised to find my discussion of it framed around Paul's letter to Philemon. 
Top 10 read Posts on Paul Redux (Oct 2, 1014)
In any case, and excuse the pun!, thanks for your patronage... now if I only I can encourage some of the many anonymous readers to also become subscribers. But regardless, cheers!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Apocalyptic Paul and Divine Initiative

This past Thursday Sept. 25th, on the 2nd day of the 2014 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship, Dr. Beverly Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Baylor University,  gave two lectures on Paul's letter to the church at Rome. 
   In the first lecture, entitled "What Part of the Word "All" Don't We Understand?" Gaventa gives an apocalyptic reading of Romans, from beginning to end, highlighting points in the text where transformations (in life and the human condition) take place. Much in the spirit and exegetical legacy of Karl Barth, Ernst Κäsemann, and J. Louis Martyn (her doctoral supervisor), Gaventa emphasizes the essentiality of divine initiative, because the anti-God powers of Sin and Death have so thoroughly enslaved humanity that no amount of repentance will change the human condition. 
   Focusing on Romans 3, and seeing in Rom 5-8 a recapitulation of the same themes in Rom 1-3 but at a larger cosmic scale, in her own words, Gaventa offered this challenge: "The human problem is larger than that which can be handled by repentance and forgiveness. Slaves cannot repent their way out of slavery. They can only be liberated. Salvation is not about being forgiven but being delivered by God." 
   Gaventa then gives a really poignant illustration by comparing the sociological and psychological slavery of the child-soldier as an analogue to the kind of slavery experienced under the rule of Sin and Death. There is more to share, but I'll let you hear from Gaventa herself via the video link (below). 
Professor Beverly Gaventa delivering the first of two Lund Lectures
in Isaacson Chapel at North Park Theological Seminary
In the 2nd lecture, entitled "Free and Costly Grace," Gaventa caught me by surprise (in a good way!). Focusing on Rom 12, Gaventa argued that grace is free because Christ died for all (5:18; 8:32), but it is costly because having been liberated, the Christian worships God by becoming a "living sacrifice" (12:1). There is nothing easy or trite about worship. Genuine worship is returning to God what is God's. There is no limit to God’s claim on us. Worship leads to ethical living. 
   I thought this was a very powerful challenge to the church, and I deeply appreciated the prophetic call back to true worship that honors God where I don't throw my money into the coffers but instead "throw my whole body into the offering plate" (her words, not mine). 
   I did walk away with some questions, however, namely what role does human response to divine initiative have in Paul's soteriological scheme. In Gaventa's explanation, faith as trust does not appear to be a response that gets one into salvation. Faith is not an entry point. God saves all, but people have not heard about this good news yet. When they hear, and believe what they hear, they worship God for what he has done. And even here faith is a gift, not a human work. So the element of volition or choice plays a minimum role in this reading of an apocalyptic Paul. It's hard for me to think about faith as trust without including an element of volition or choice, though I would not reduce faith to just choice or cognitive assent. Faith is much more. 
   In any case, all I can say is: wow! Fantastic lecture and pastoral challenge! So grateful that Dr. Gaventa was here at North Park to share her work and words with us. To listen to her 2nd lecture yourself, again, see the video links below. Blessings!

Lecture 1: Jump to 3:55 to skip the introductions: 

Lecture 2: Video begins immediately with the lecture: 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The 2014 Lund Lecture Kicks Off with the Song of Songs and Human Intimacy

On Wednesday Sept. 24, the 2014 Nils W. Lund Lectureship launched with an excellent set of lectures from Dr. Tremper Longman III, the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. 
   The first lecture, entitled: "Celebration and Warning: Sexual Intimacy in the Song of Songs," was a brilliant summary on the history of interpretation on the Song of Songs, where he demonstrated that the allegorical interpretation of the Song was quite late, beginning with Jewish interpreters like Rabbi Akiba (c.a. AD 100), continued through the Targum traditions (Song of Songs 1:2-4), and was popularized in Christian discourse by Hippolytus, Origen, Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux and medieval interpreters.  He gave some hilarious examples of Christian allegorical readings: e.g., Hippolytus (AD 200) read the verse "My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh lodging between my breasts" (1:13) as meaning the beloved is the Bride of Christ, the church, and each breast represents the Old Testament on one side, and the New Testament on the other. 
    Some warnings from both Jewish and Christian traditions were poignant. Rabbi Akiba, for instance, stated that anyone who treats the Song of Songs, not as an allegory of God's love for Israel, but as a cheap love ballad to be sung in banquet halls "has no share in the world to come!" A literal reading damns the reader to hell! But read as an allegory, the Song of Songs becomes "the Holy of Holies." 
    The Westminster Assembly apparently warned that a literal reading likens the Song of Songs to "a hot carnal pamphlet formed by some loose Apollo or Cupid" rather than the beautiful story of the Bridegroom's (Christ's) unrelenting love for the Bride (the church). 
    Longman takes to task the allegorical reading and argues that the Song of Songs is not a plot-driven story but a collection of love songs, an anthology, which nevertheless has a collective literary and theological coherence. The Song is about human intimacy and sensuality, and more importantly how they might reflect the image of God. Longman ends the first lecture with some, in his words, "R-rated" translations of the Song (vs. his older, collaborative PG-13 translation with the New Living Translation committee), including Song of Songs 4:1-5:1. I'll let you hear him give the R-rated version via video link (below). As one audience member said: "The man did not blush!" when translating the Hebrew, all of which can also be found in his Song of Solomon commentary with NICOT. 
The 2nd lecture was entitled: "God Loves Sex: A Theological Reading of the Song of Songs." Again, you can listen to his lecture directly (link below) but by way of summary Longman talked about relational brokenness, healthy sexual expressions in a marriage context as well as deviant ones, and attempts to outline a biblical theology of human sexuality in dialogue with the rest of the Christian canon. It was a great way to kick-off the Lund lectureship and the Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture.
Prof. Longman chatting with North Park seminarians
at the end of the Lund Lectureship
For links to video recordings of the lectures, please see the following: 

Lecture 1: Jump to 6:09 to skip the introductions:

Lecture 2: Jump to 1:17 to skip the introductions: 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ancient Traveling or the War Machine: Vote!

Bronze Corinthian helmet (ca. 5th cent. BC)
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2014 Museum of Corinth
Here are a couple of announcements for this blog:
  1. Throughout the week, I'll be posting on the Lund Lectureship and the North Park Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture (click for details). Especially if there are papers and lectures on the topic of Paul, his gospel, and theology, I will definitely make comments and provide links to video for anyone who wishes to hear the lectures themselves. The papers for the symposium will not be recorded (correction! there might be live-streaming for the papers and responses: here) but they will be published in the next issue of Ex Auditu and you can get a summary and review of some papers from my posts throughout this week. 
  2. Want to have a say on the next set of topics I pursue on this blog? I'll be taking a vote throughout the week of the Symposium. I was thinking of starting a series of blog posts on either the topic of ancient traveling (by foot, sea, etc.) or military warfare or it can be something else if anyone has a good suggestion. Which topic are you interested in? To vote, become a subscriber to this blog. Look to the left of this page and click the button "Join this site" under the heading "Followers." You can sign up using a google, yahoo, twitter, and other accounts. Then reply to this post indicating what topic you would like this blog to pursue. Vote: ancient traveling, military warfare, or other (name the topic). Also, it would be great if you gave a quick intro and let me know who you are and your own interests in the ancient world or anything Apostle Paul (but this is optional). That's it! I'll let people know of the results next week. 
Hope to hear from the many anonymous readers of this blog out there in the world-wide web! Blessings!
The Antikythera Mechanism used to navigate sea-waters
Photo taken by Max Lee© 2014 Athens Museum