Saturday, December 26, 2015

Highlights from Intertextuality, Rhetoric, and the Pauline Letters (Nov 23)

I got sidetracked during the Christmas holiday, but finally I found the time to give my final post on SBL-AAR 2015. 
    The session I presided over for the Intertextuality and New Testament Intepretation Section (S23-124: Intertextuality, Rhetorical Criticism, and the Pauline Letters) had five fantastic paper presentations, and I enjoyed them so much that I forgot to take a quick photo of our session. So here is a random book cover photo of a classic example of intertexuality: Ulysseys, James Joyce's modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey but set in modern 1904 Dublin. 
James Joyce's Ulysses is a classic example of intertextuality,
which structures its poetry after Homer's Odyssey
As with the other session summaries, I won't comment on every paper but just share a few highlights. 
   First up was A. Andrew Das of Elmhurst College, with his paper entitled "An Audience-Oriented Approach to Paul's Use of Scripture in Galatians: Reader Competence and Differing Target Audiences." Das' paper did not really introduce any new theoretical framework on intertextuality but applied existing models in an innovative way. In my previous post, I gave a concise description of the rhetorical vs. narrative approaches to intertextuality (here). Usually, these approaches are seen as competing. But Das, in his reading of Galatians, applied both models in corresponding and consistent ways. From the perspective of reader competence, Das doubts that the Galatian Gentile converts had much knowledge of Scripture (key word here is "Gentile"). He argues that when Paul addresses the church at Galatia, for the most part, Paul's use of Scripture is rhetorical without reference to the wider co(n)text. 
    However, when Paul addresses the agitators (or Judaizers), Paul's approach is narrative and provides a much more sophisticated exegetical argument against a collective reading of the Genesis texts (i.e., the Judaizer position) which would posit the descendants of Abraham as the inheritors of God's promises. Nor does Paul identify the seed of Abraham as Isaac even though some contemporary Jews of his day did. Instead, Paul understands the seed of Abraham to be Christ and controversially the Judaizers as apostates to the gospel. 
    Probably the most provocative paper was by G. Brooke Lester of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, entitled "No, Seriously: A Unifying Theory of Allusion." Lester primarily is a Hebrew Bible scholar, and the Old Testament has its own theoretical models of intertextuality with ancient near eastern traditions or approaches to inner-biblical interpretation. Sometimes the models used do overlap with those employed by New Testament scholars, and in this case, Lester draws on the work of literary theorists Ziva Ben-Porat and Carmella Perri who are familiar to recent NT scholars on intertextuality (e.g., see the work of Christopher Beetham, David McAuley, and Leroy Huizenga; cf. Lester's own book on Daniel). Forgive the pun, but the theories of Ben-Porat and Perri on allusion had eluded me, and so I found Lester's paper on tacitness of reference very helpful.
   In the past, scholars have understood allusions to Scripture or other ancient texts in the New Testament to be defined by how tacit is an author's identification of a Scriptural reference. If, for example, Paul identifies an OT quotation with the typical formula "As it is written," then the OT text is not an allusion because it is overtly recognized by the reader with the author's help. 
    However, Lester points to the work of Ben-Porat and Perri to redefine allusion as a production of the author and reader. An allusion can be overtly identified, but it remains an allusion if the meaning of the NT text is still unclear even when the reader is aware of the alluded-to text. If the connection between texts creates a riddle, that is, it is unclear how the allude-to text is supposed to illuminate the meaning of the read text, then we have an allusion. An allusion creates an imaginative space that needs to be filled in by the reader who interprets the evoked text to make sense of what he or she has read.
    So a good signal that we may have a Pauline allusion to another text is when a surface or literal reading makes no sense. [Try reading Romans 9-11 without reference to the OT and you get the point]. Without the alluded-to text activating the meaning of the read text, the read text's interpretation remains undecipherable. 
    Let me give an example that I immediately thought about, but was not used by Lester: 1 Cor 6:13aτὰ βρώματα τῇ κοιλίᾳ καὶ ἡ κοιλία τοῖς βρώμασιν.
   What does "food for the stomach, and the stomach for food" mean? Commentators have been trying to decipher this text for a while, and the myriads of possible interpretations keep building. To me, this is a signal that an allusion might be embedded, and without identifying the allusion, the 1 Cor 6:13a text will remain undecipherable. I suspect that the allusion is not, however, to Scripture but to Greco-Roman discourse which a wisdom group at the church in Corinth is using to justify a slogan and position on the ethics of pleasure which Paul finds objectionable.
   In any case, I have some reading to do with Ben-Porat and Perri, and I appreciate the theoretical framework provided by Lester's fine paper. 

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