Saturday, October 17, 2009

James D.G. Dunn and Paul's Identity

James D. G. Dunn’s latest statement on identity: ‘In using the term ‘identity’ I am conscious both that identity is at least in some degree a social construct and that it should not be regarded as something fixed or single. Precisely because it is in some degree a social construct, a person’s identity will inevitably change through time and at any time will be multiple in character (son, Jew, apostle, client, tent-maker, etc.’ (2009: 522n.12).

First, Dunn is conflating identity categories, a critique that I directed towards his work in my thesis. Second, he is also equivocating by bringing in the temporal dimension. This is actually the philosophical question of identity change over time. Third, he furthermore confuses identity positions and identity roles. Fourth, his broader approach to Paul’s identity does not fully account for the social constructedness of identity, i.e. Paul left Judaism but still a Jew is not a coherent position (524-26). Finally, the primary focal point for understanding Paul is social identity, Dunn still does not fully account for his group memberships. Though, this quote is from Dunn’s new book, his understanding of Paul’s identity has not changed much since his 1999 New Testament Studies article and his dismissive remark about the current fashionableness of ‘identity’ overlooks that studies on Paul’s Greekness and/or Jewishness (older language) goes back to the early 20th century in NT studies.

Dunn, James D. G. 2009. Beginning from Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Dunn, James D. G. 1999. ‘Who Did Paul Think He Was? A Study of Jewish Christian Identity’. NTS 45: 174-93.

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