Friday, September 18, 2009

William S. Campbell: Paul and Christian Identity, Part 1

Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. By William S. Campbell. London/New York: T & T Clark, 2006 [2008], 224 pp., $120.00, cloth; [$39.95, paperback].

In Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity, William S. Campbell, Reader in Biblical Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, has produced a wide-ranging and insightful work on Paul’s role in the formation of Christian identity in the earliest period of the Christ-movement. He interacts with the concept of universal Christian identity and concludes this concept is not sufficiently nuanced and argues that particularized identity is more reflective of the realities of the early Christ-movement. The book is well-structured and readable and provides a nice overview of Pauline scholarship as it relates to Paul’s mission and strategy while providing scholars with the necessary material for furthering the discussion. Campbell, editor of the Journal of Beliefs and Values, has reflected and written on the topic of identity formation since the early 1990s in, for example, his monograph Paul’s Gospel in Inter-Cultural Context. His insights are reflective of a seasoned-scholar who does not attempt to over-reach in his conclusions but allows the strength of his arguments and the biblical material to direct the reader to a more precise understanding concerning the nature of early Christ-follower identity. The main text of the book is without typographical errors, though I did note a few omissions in the bibliography. These, however, are extremely minor quibbles in an otherwise well-researched and well-written book that fills a void in the current literature on identity formation.

Campbell immediately narrows the focus of this book to the identity of Jewish people in the first century of the Common Era. He begins by interacting with the constructivist approaches to ethnicity of Jonathan Hall, Fredrick Barth, and Philip Esler, while finding much to commend in their work he opts for a stronger component for the “primordial aspects of ethnicity” (p. 5) when reconstructing their identity because of their status as a minority group and the constitutive role that Roman imperial ideology played on their self-understanding. Campbell understands Paul to be an individual who was not looking to eradicate ethnic distinctions nor encourage gentiles to become Jews. His strategy and mission, however, required “a transformation in the symbolic universe of these peoples in the light of the Christ-event.” (p. 8) This was a proposition, sadly, that was ultimately rejected and that rejection led to two very different paths throughout history. He sees Paul as establishing community within the context of difference. He questions the scholarly consensus concerning equality and the elimination of difference in Christ. Building on the work of Iris Young he calls for an approach that emphasizes “the politics of difference in the contextuality of existence” which ultimately produces “a paradigm very different from historic Paulinism.” (p. 10) This is an apt description of what Campbell is attempting to do in Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. As he proceeds with his study he limits himself to issues directly related to identity and ethnicity. His aim in this work “is not only to consider historical and social aspects of identity, ethnicity, and difference in the first century but to include, in association with these, Paul’s theologizing and the outcome of this in the formation of Christian identity.” (p. 11)

Chapter two evaluates the contemporary scene of Pauline studies as it relates to Jew and gentile relations broadly, and identity formation specifically. He argues that F.C. Baur’s antithetical approach established the trajectory for Pauline studies which led to the vilification of Judaism when compared to Christianity. Campbell sees in W.D. Davies’ comparison of Rabbinic and New Testament documents a more positive understanding of Judaism and an approach which relocated Paul within his Jewish context. Johannes Munck’s work is likewise presented as a reaction to F.C. Baur’s. Campbell notes that one of the main contributions of Munck’s work was the rediscovery of the missionary-eschatological perspective of Paul and his Jewish background, a perspective that was furthered through the work of Krister Stendahl. Next he summarizes the teachings of his former teacher Ernst Käsemann who attempted to modify the Bultmannian understanding of justification in existential terms. He sees Käsemann’s work within a dialectic relationship with Stendahl and provides an informative comparison and contrast of their two views. Käsemann is understood to be defending the Pauline consensus as it relates to justification by faith, even though it is recognized that he has developed and thus emphasized the communal aspects of this doctrine. Sanders and Dunn are discussed in the context of the “New Perspective” on Paul and Campbell while affirming their basic reconstruction of first century Judaism concludes that to a certain degree their work does not really remove the Jewish antithesis from within Christianity and elevates faith in Christ as the primary marker of identity as compared with circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath: which in reality renders these identity markers “superfluous.” (p. 29) Campbell offers a short criticism of the “New Perspective” in the areas of the diversity of first century Judaism, the proper use of parallels from Second Temple literature (e.g., 4QMMT), a reminder concerning the nature of inner-Christian community debates as compared to inner-Jewish community debates, and an important reminder concerning how the history of interpretation of Scripture may adversely impact one’s understanding of the universality of Christianity and the presence of diversity within the early Christ-followers. Campbell’s solution for this dilemma is to re-contextualize Paul’s letters while avoiding unnecessary theologizing and focuses on the actual “realities of Israel and the nations in relation to God” and finally grapples with “the place of Judaism in Christian identity” which, in his mind has not been properly evaluated and researched. (p. 32)
This is part 1 of 3 that will provide a comprehensive review of Campbell's approach to Paul and the formation of Christian identity.

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