Friday, November 30, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Charles A. Anderson, Lecturer in New Testament and Biblical Languages at Oak Hill College in London, examines “Philo of Alexandria’s ambivalent, seemingly contradictory claims about the ethical status of the sensible world” (p. 1). This revision of his Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis, written under the supervision of Markus Bockmuehl, contends that the solution is to see his views multiperspectivally. This approach positions Philo’s views of the physical world in-between those evident in Israel’s scriptures and those of the ancient philosophers, ultimately seeing them as negative. This lexical-semantic reading of the Philonic corpus is quite convincing with regard to the way it establishes the presence of both positive and negative discourses concerning the physical word. Furthermore, Anderson’s exhaustive treatment of φύσις represents a key contribution from this densely and convincingly argued monograph.
Chapter 1 notes the deficiencies in previous attempts to address this question and concludes with brief discussions concerning the socially-conditioned nature of cosmological reflection and the contextualized methodological approach used in this study. Chapter 2 sets the context by surveying the genre and organization of Philo’s writings in which Judaism and Hellenism interpenetrate. Anderson contends that the “Allegory of the Law” and the “Exposition of the Law” had two different audiences (p. 18). The former was for advanced readers, while the latter was for beginners. These disparate audiences account for the different perspectives on the sensible world (p. 22). With regard to Hellenism and Judaism, Philo sees them as compatible with ideological precedence given to Judaism, though with regard to the physical world, Philo diverts from both in significant ways. Chapter 3 lays out the study of Philo’s negative terminology for the physical world by analyzing οὐσία, ὕλη, γένεσις, and γενητός; here the world is hostile and alienated from God. However, in chapters 4-6, Anderson’s study of κόσμος and φύσις indicate that when Philo used these terms he linked the sensible world closely to God.
Chapter 7 addresses the implications of such seemingly contradictory views. Philo’s understanding of the differing ways humanity seeks God accounts for this divergence. For those seeking God in the higher way, the world is an obstacle and no longer serves a positive purpose; however, for those seeking God through the lower approach, “the sensible world has genuine value—it is the means by which they come to know God” (p. 167). Chapter 8 organizes Philo’s multiperspectival view of the ethical status of the physical world and coheres closely to the lexical findings of the earlier chapters: οὐσία, ὕλη, γένεσις, and γενητός, with their focus on the material world present a pessimistic view, while κόσμος and φύσις point to God as creator and ruler over the same domain. Anderson ultimately concludes, however, that Philo’s view prioritizes “the pessimistic outlook” (p. 185). Chapter 9 provides a conclusion to the study by highlighting its findings and noting the ways Philo’s negative views compare with the views of other ancient writers. Particularly helpful here is the discussion of Paul’s cosmological discourse. As noted by Anderson, this was one of his original interests (p. 2). One hopes that he will soon revisit this topic, since his work has profound relevance for understanding the context of Paul’s cosmological discourse. Anderson has provided a thoroughly convincing argument, though some may be unconvinced by his reliance on Alan Mendelson’s multiperspectivalism. That minor point aside, Anderson offers a plausible solution to the problem of Philo’s apparent contradictory perspectives on the physical world.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Monday, July 16, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Walking in Their Sandals: A Guide to First-Century Israelite Ethnic Identity. By Markus Cromhout. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010. Pp. xvi +128. Paper, $18.00.
Chapter 1 sets out Markus Cromhout’s general model of ethnicity. He contends “that the ‘House of Israel’ as it existed in the first century must be understood and approached as an ethnic identity, not as a form of ‘religion’” (p. 1). Contemporary ethnicity theory informs this book, with Richard Jenkins, Dennis Duling, and Philip Esler serving as key guides in Cromhout’s proposed hybrid theological and social-scientific ethnicity model (pp. 7, 24, 35). He also, surprisingly, sees a distinctive primordial element to Israelite identity in the first century—an element that Paul opposed (pp. 28, 84). Cromhout’s model views ethnicity as (1) a form of social identity, (2) requiring processes of socialization, (3) communicating similarity and difference, (4) relying on cultural context, (5) fixed or fluid depending on setting, and (6) resulting from a dialectic between collectivistic and individualistic discourses.
Chapter 2 provides a description of Cromhout’s model applied to first century Israelite ethnic identity and filtered through the findings of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). He begins by describing the Israelite symbolic universe, which includes ordering principles such as kinship, honor and shame, and patronage. Other components include the legitimation of epistemic concerns, a land-focused interpretation of history, and societal ordering structures such as purity and hierarchy, the latter reified by circumcision (p. 54). Protection for this symbolic universe was provided through the framework of “deviance, diagnosis, and cure” (p. 57). These discursive resources drew from Israel’s scriptural tradition, while relying on collective memory to address communal issues in the present. Cromhout then explains the way his socio-cultural model of Israelite ethnicity works as it interacts with Israel’s symbolic universe (p. 64). The results are an eco-system of ethnicity encircled by a sacred canopy and a habitus that approximate the debated knowledge and values of Israel’s ethnic identity.
Chapter 3 discusses ethnicity and Paul through the lens of the NPP. Cromhout follows Dunn with regard to covenantal nomism, the boundary function of the law, the creation of a new inclusive ethnos, and the social dimension of Paul’s argument. For both Dunn and Cromhout, emblematic Israelite performances embodied an ethnic identity, i.e., participation in the covenant community. However, Paul opposes the idea that God’s grace only extended to those who observed the works of the law. He offers, instead, an alternative sacred canopy and habitus. God is the divine patron, who distributes grace and expects obedience in return; this constructs an alternative symbolic universe that applies equally to Israelites and gentiles. Cromhout does not provide a univocal NPP reading; he parts ways with Dunn by rejecting the necessity of individual faith, opting for a robust understanding of the faithfulness of Jesus. Faith, for Cromhout, is “an alternative way of life and social conduct, and righteousness is something attained by an identity based on faith” (p. 93). His approach to identity is universalistic and follows closely Esler’s transcending view. Cromhout sees Paul as one who “no longer views his traditional ethnicity as ‘gain’ or ‘advantage.’” Interestingly he later qualifies this claim by noting that Paul eventually came to the conclusion that “he should not seek to erase the subgroup identities of Judeans and non-Judeans” (pp. 99, 101).
Cromhout provides a helpful introduction to Israelite ethnic identity that builds on the work of The Context Group and the NPP. Thus, this book would serve as a useful primer for those studying the social context of the NT. However, a few critical comments are in order. First, he overlooks the significance of 1 Cor 7:17-24 for the way Paul understands ethnicity in Christ. The continuation of the circumcision calling in Christ weakens his claim that Paul sought to form a new, more inclusive ethnos (p. 97). Second, he rightly recognizes the connected nature of ecclesiology and soteriology (p. 88); however, a variegated ecclesiology is slightly more probable. Third, by describing Christian identity as a new ethnicity, Cromhout confuses the categories with regard to Israel. Though Paul may draw on ethnic discourse to describe aspects of the transformation of identity in Christ, it does not follow that a new ethnic identity is formed thereby. These assessments aside, Cromhout’s work deserves further critical engagement and represents a step forward by integrating social-scientific and theological concerns in the study of identity formation of the earliest Christ-followers.