Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Review of Horsley (part 3)

[Previous review parts: part 2; part 1]

Rollin Ramsaran's contribution to the book ("Resisting imperial domination and influence: Paul's apocalyptic rhetoric in 1 Corinthians", 89-101) takes a closer look at the way in which Paul uses Greco-Roman rhetoric in an apocalyptic key. While his clearly makes use of certain conventions that we find in the rhetorical handbooks, his use of apocalyptic topoi effectively undercuts the value system inherent in classical rhetoric: for example, the critique of the "rulers of this age", the stress on the renewal of the people in their new community, and the ultimate vindication of the believers attacks the status-conscious ideals of some in the community (1 Cor 1-4).

In the fifth chapter, Efraim Agosto ("Patronage and commendation, imperial and anti-imperial", 103-123) shifts the focus to the patronage system that undergirds the empire. Drawing on the work of Richard Saller and others on the patron-client relationships, Agosto directs attention to the way in which Paul's 'commendations' subvert the fundamentally entrenched system of patronage in the empire: a system which in many ways provided the social, political and economic 'glue' that held the empire together: oiling the wheels, entrenching social status. Agosto finds that while there are superficial similarities with letters of commendations in this patron-client system, Paul subverts this system fundamentally by promoting a value system that is quite contrary to the ideology of the elite (1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Cor 16:15-18; Phil 2:25-30, 4:2-3; Rom 16:1-2) – including his refusal of becoming the 'client' of wealthy 'patrons' in his new communities, and insisting on working "with his own hands", or by stressing self-sacrificial service rather than the elite practice of euergitism, public 'good works' which serve to maintain the status of the elite.

One of the most interesting chapters, and also the longest, is Erik Heen's ("Phil 2:6-11 and resistance to local timocratic rule: isa theô and the cult of the emperor in the East", 125-153), but I may be biased because I worked a bit on what I then called a 'materialist reading' of the Christ-hymn in Phil 2 in the early 90's. The surprising (or perhaps not so surprising!) thing is that reading the Christ-hymn against isa theô ('equal to God') claims in the imperial cult is not much more common! With a nod at Scott's notion of 'hidden transcripts' (put bluntly, the Christ-hymn functions in a covert way), Heen discusses the use of the formula in the eastern part of the empire, including Philippi. Rather than againt the usual (though often debated) theological notion of the pre-existence of Christ, Heen interprets Phil 2:6-11 "as an expression of a hidden transcript that sets Christ over agains theRoman emperor" (137). One wonders though how 'hidden' this 'discourse' would have been given that Heen himself points out the early imperial restriction of divine honours to the emperor (in the eastern empire).
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