Monday, August 10, 2009

Caroline Johnson Hodge: Gentile Kinship in Christ

NB: If interested, I have written a complete review of If Sons, Then Heirs, in the Journal of Beliefs and Values. See: Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), Journal of Beliefs and Values volume 29, no. 1 (August 2008): 217-19.

The framework of multiple identities serves as the interpretive grid for Caroline Johnson Hodge. She resists the universalism and particularity binaries when discussing identity and maintains ‘that Paul uses embodiedness to construct universalizing arguments, arguments that revolve around an embodied Israel and assume its continued election’ (2007: 127-28). Central to her approach is challenging ‘the traditionally popular notion that Paul advocates the melding of differences into one “Christian” identity’ (127). She remarks ‘although Ioudaioi and gentiles now share a common ancestor, Paul does not collapse them into one group (of “Christian,” for example). Gentiles-in-Christ and Jews are separate but related lineages of Abraham’ (5). For Hodge, ethnicity and kinship language is central for Paul’s rhetorical constructs (4). In this way, her work resonates with the ethnic reasoning of Denise Buell.

Consideration of the transitional nature of Paul’s identity and the fact that he never left Judaism are central tenants to her understanding of the way Paul sought to form gentile ‘in Christ’ identity ‘as an “entrepreneur of identity,” Paul manages both the multiple facts of his own identity as a teacher of gentiles and the new possibilities of aggregate identity for gentiles-in-Christ’ as he teaches them (120). She rightly understands Paul as one who never broke from Judaism but incorporated the concept of ‘adaptability’ into his teaching (121-25; 1 Cor 9:19-22). While Paul’s ministry shows evidence of adaptation to his audience, the example provided by Hodge (i.e. Philodemus) would have been more convincing if there was evidence of this approach within the Hebrew Scriptures. Her understanding of identity hierarchies is instructive and her kinship reading of ‘in Christ’ is most helpful (131-32), though it could be extended by also understanding ‘in Christ’ as a social identity. She comes close to this view with regard to Gal 3:28 where she notes, ‘Paul calls for a unity of those in Christ, but not an erasure of other identities. We might imagine this “in-Christness” superimposed over other facets of identity, like being called in the 1 Corinthians passage above’ (126). For Hodge, gentiles are now ‘within the larger network of Israel’. They do not have ‘to become Ioudaioi or cease to be Greeks, but he expects gentiles-in-Christ to make radical adjustments to their identities’. Hodge continues, ‘they must give up their gods and religious practices in order to proclaim loyalty to the God of Israel; they must accept Israel’s messiah, scriptures, stories of origin, ethical standards, and even ancestry’ (131). In this way, Hodge’s work extends that of both William S. Campbell and Denise Buell, though some of her exegetical decisions (e.g. seeing Paul only writing to gentiles, the centrality of Abraham when he is not mentioned in 1 Corinthians) may limit the usefulness of her approach when applied to 1 Corinthians. The most significant weakness of her approach, however, is that she over-estimates the fluid nature of identity.


Buell, D.K. 2005 Why This New Race Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (Gender, Theory, and Religion (New York: Columbia University Press).

Buell, D.K. and C.J. Hodge 2004 ‘The Politics of Interpretation: The Rhetoric of Race and Ethnicity in Paul’, JBL 123: 235-251.

Campbell, W.S. 2006 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS, 322; London; T&T Clark).

Johnson Hodge, C.E. 2007 If Sons, Then Heirs A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press).


Anonymous said...


Could you expound a bit on your last statement--"she over-estimates the fluid nature of identity"--so as to insure that I am tracking with you here?



J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...


Good question. This is a big issue in identity studies. It relates to issues of essentialism. So, certain scholars emphasis the importance of an essential core to identity (e.g. William S. Campbell with regard to Jewish identity) others argue that identity is discursively formed and socially constructed and thus there is no stable core. Therefore, identities can shift and are also quite fluid.

Anonymous said...

thanks, Brian. I have a number of questions on this front, especially as it relates to Campbell's book. I am working through it this week, and look forward to continuing our discussion in the coming weeks.

Mike Koke said...

Thanks for this review. I find Buell's "Why This New Race?" to be an important work (though I still prefer to use ethnicity instead of race to describe ancient ethnic reasoning) and asked other bloggers what they thought of Denise Kimber Buell and Caroline Hodge, “The Politics of Interpretation: The Rhetoric of Race and Ethnicity in Paul” JBL 123 (2004): 235-251. I haven't read Hodge's book on Paul yet.

J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...


Good pick up on the connections with Buell. I have a blog entry coming up on her. I've tried to apply ethnic reasoning to the way Paul refers to Jew/Greek, etc. in 1Corinthians. Their combined JBL article shows the way her approach may be applied in the NT.