Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reading Ephesians, Part 2

This post continues my review of Minna Shkul's Reading Ephesians, that I began in yesterday's post. Chapter 3 provides an Iserian 'wandering viewpoint' analysis of Eph 2:11-22, with a specific focus on 2:15, in order to determine whether or not Jesus was remembered to have abolished the Law completely or partially. Shkul concludes that Jesus abolished the Law completely (113); however, this should not be interpreted as an anti-Jewish interpretive stance. Jewishness provides autochthony and behavioural models for this non-Israelite Christ-following community, though its symbolic universe is reconfigured around the Christ-event. This is necessary because the community will be required to leave their existing Roman culture behind now that they are 'in Christ' (125). With regard to the partial continuation of the Law and previous social identities within the Christ-movement, Shkul acknowledges that 'multiple identities' and 'righteous gentile' constructs have textual support in the undisputed Paulines (102-5). However, she contends that there is no warrant for holding these positions in Ephesians where one overarching identity is the ideological perspective of this reformist, Jewish author, writing in the late first century CE. Shkul is quick to point out that often NT scholars acknowledge the Deutero-Pauline status of Ephesians, but continue to interpret the letter as if Paul had written it and it reflected a mid-first historical century situation (131). She provides warrant for rejecting that approach and suggests ways in which looking at Ephesians as a late first century document provide an evidentiary bridge between the early Christ-movement and the universalistic Christian identity that emerges during the time of Ignatius.

Chapter 4 uncovers Paul's reputation as the unique communicator of God's mystery, which is described as the inclusion of the gentiles in God's people, and as one who legitimates non-Israelite Christianness. The pseudonymous epistle presents historical reflections of Paul as a group exemplar who embodies the values and behaviours of the subgroup. These prototypical features also socially categorise both ingroup and outgroup and bring to the fore a rationale for rejecting any discourse opposed to that which has been legitimated by Paul's prophetic ministry. The primary ideological reforms evident in the construction of Paul's prophetic persona include the following two elements: (1) foreigners 'in Christ' are now accepted into Israel as God's people; and (2) the law no longer marks communal boundaries. The result of these reforms is what Shkul calls 'non-Israelite Christianness' (172). This ideological discourse contributes to the eventual separation between the Christ-movement and Judaism; however, the reputational construal of Paul should not be understood as an overt critique of the Jews.

Chapter 5 uncovers key theoretical perspectives that will be employed in the reading of Eph 4-6, which is to occur in chapter 6. The framework draws on key resources of social identity theory (e.g. positive ingroup assessment, social stereotyping, prejudice, and scapegoating). These provide interpretive clues into the social orientation of Ephesians with regard to the paradigms it provides for acceptable communal life (see Eph 4:17). Thus, Shkul is interested in discerning in Eph 4-6 the meaning of identity to the writer of the letter, and the way it communicates his approved communal behaviours, which have their basis in the group's social identification (184). This allows Shkul to minimise any need for conflict with outsiders, which has little to no basis in the text; rather, she fills a gap missed by other scholars by noting the way the text creates social distance, and, if embodied, may actually produce conflict with those outside the ideologically constructed ingroup (182).

This is part of my review published in Journal of Beliefs and Values 31.2 (August 2010): 238-41.

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