Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Davina C. Lopez on Gentiles, Gender, and Imperial Ideology

Davina C. Lopez argues that gentile identity and Paul’s relationship to his Roman imperial context create complex interpretive challenges. She does this through both a textual and semiotic analysis (2008: xiii; see Theissen 1999: 2). Paul’s mission, according to Lopez, ‘is to unite the peoples defined and delimited by Roman conquest through transgressing and subverting the boundaries of identity’ (2008: xiv). These boundaries as defined by the empire include issues related to ‘colonization, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity…each of these collective identity-signifiers speaks…in the language of the others’ (7). Lopez has correctly noted the broad context for social identity within the Roman empire. She correctly describes Paul’s use of gentile is ‘not so much…a marker of individual identity but collective identity’ (22). Lopez rightly assumes ‘Paul’s Jewish identity and scriptural context’ and that he ‘operates fully in reference to that identity and context’ (23-24). The Jewish embeddedness of Paul may have created some of the communication difficulties with those who identified with the ‘local indigenous elite’ expressions of ‘a self-referential Roman elite identity’ (27-28). Specifically this may be the case in the context of Roman Corinth. Roman imperial ideology sought ‘the enforcement of imperial social order’ and ideology that Lopez notes employs ‘gender imagery’ in ‘delineating hierarchical distinctions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, and male and female’ (117). Virgil’s Aeneid is noted as being integral ‘to the importance of appearance to identity’ and likewise ‘women’s bodies’ are ‘a means to express corporate identity, particularly the identity of religions’ (118, 157), an approach which Paul follows (118, 157, 162). For Lopez, Paul employs gender categories to construct a social identity for the Pauline communities not over and against Judaism but against Roman imperial ideology. Thus he recasts their ideological resources to further his mission to the defeated nations throughout the Roman empire. So, is Lopez on to something or is her proposal need more work?

See what a friend of mine Kar Lim had to say about Lopez's work.

Lopez, Davina C. Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul's Mission. Paul in critical contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.
Theissen, Gerd. A theory of primitive Christian religion. London: SCM, 1999.

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