Thursday, April 29, 2010

Contested Ritual Space in Corinth

Paul contests the Corinthian Christ-followers' conception of oikos/oikia ritual space and argues instead, for ecclesia ritual space (Gehring 2004: 8 n. 45; Theissen 1982: 87). Paul corrects the Corinthians’ fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sacred space (Flanagan 1999: 26-30; Newsom 2004: 7). The dominate script in Corinth was oikos space as the location of social-sacred space. Paul, however, understood there to be inherent weaknesses with this understanding and argues for ecclesia space as the controlling spatial metaphor for the community. The social identity that emerges relies on two other metaphors, the group as the temple of God and the body of Christ. These two metaphors provide the spatial bridge necessary to resocialize the Corinthians into an alternative community with a distinct ethos.

The two passages that bring to fore the conflict in spatial understanding are 1 Cor 11:22, 34 and 1 Cor 14:35. In 1 Cor 11:22, Paul asks the Corinthian Christ-followers, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” The conflict, from Paul’s perspective was over the confusion of oikos and ecclesia space. The Corinthians were treating the ritual space as domestic space. The confusion was a natural outcome of the Corinthians' Roman social identity and its correlation of domestic space with political power. Paul further instructs the Corinthians in 1 Cor 11:34, “If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” The dominate script in Corinth combined oikos and ecclesia space but Paul establishes a thirdspace relationship between the two ritual spaces. The next passage in which there was spatial confusion is 1 Cor 14:35, in which Paul argues “If they [women] want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (Wire 1990: 149-52, 229-32; Horrell 1996: 195). Paul here argues for a hierarchical understanding of ritual space and seeks to silence women in the ecclesia space.

Paul’s rhetorical constructs are designed to form this community in a way that conforms to his rhetorical vision. The conflict between Paul’s rhetorical vision and the Corinthians' becomes a “contact zone” resulting in a thirdspace negotiation of identity (Pratt 2008: 8; Marchal 2008: 92). Using critical spatial theory (Lefebvre 1991: 95) knowledge can be expanded through the introduction of other possibilities to existing cultural binaries (e.g., oikos/ecclesia). This act does not simply combine or go in-between established binaries, but transforms them (Soja 1996: 61). Thirdspace is an ever-open space that allows contradictory and seemingly incompatible ideas to coexist and be creatively restructured in new ways to produce new meaning. Thirdspace identities provide a spatial reading of the negotiation that occurred between Paul and his audience in Corinth.

Flanagan, James W. “Ancient Perceptions of Space/Perceptions of Ancient Space,” Semeia 87 (1999), 15-43.

Gehring , Roger W. House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson, 2004).

Horrell, David G. The Social Ethos of the Corinthian Correspondence: Interests and Ideology from 1 Corinthians to 1 Clement (London: T&T Clark, 1996).

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space (trans. D. Nicholoson-Smith; Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).

Marchal, Joseph A. The Politics of Heaven: Women, Gender, and Empire in the Study of Paul. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008.

Newsom, Carol A. The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Pratt, Mary L. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 2008).

Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996).

Theissen, Gerd, and John Howard Schütz. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity Essays on Corinth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982).

Wire, Antoinette Clark. The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction through Paul’s Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1990).

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