Saturday, February 16, 2013

[Evolution of the Word] 1 Thessalonians

I forgot that one of my favorite verses is in here -- "Test everything. Hold on to the good" (5:21, NIV).

"Did you just do Bible Study over the phone?" my housemate asked me last Sunday. Yup.

Chelsea is a much deeper reader than I am.

She talked about the fact that Paul didn't call the Thessalonians to repentance but rather to do more [of the good they were already doing]. She mentioned Patrick Cheng's idea of sin as immaturity. [I haven't yet read Cheng's "grace" book, but he mentions the idea in e.g. this interview.]

She's reading the Jewish Annotated New Testament (which I want to own*) and talked about what it says about the "the Jews killed Jesus" portion (2:14-16) -- which I somehow had no recollection of having read ... what even, self?

She said that the JANT suggests Paul said "Judeans" but that his Gentile audience might not have caught that nuance. I talked about Borg's point [which I wrote about in my last post] that Paul's prime audience was Gentiles who were already attracted to (and somewhat involved with) Judaism (including synagogue life), so I wasn't entirely convinced that the Thessalonians took away a simplistic "the Jews killed Jesus (so we hates them, precious)" message -- though it is certainly sadly true that later in Christianity, that became a dominant message.

At the end of Chapter 2, Paul says to the community, "You are our glory and joy."
Chelsea talked about this idea of it feeling like it doesn't matter what happens to you because you know this community will continue on, like your legacy.
This reminded me of the importance in Judaism's lack of belief in an afterlife and how that leads to children being considered very important (they're your legacy).
In articulating what she said back to her, I linked it to the parent language Paul uses (e.g., "But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children." [2:7b], "As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children" [2:11]) and she said that parent language doesn't actually resonate for her (here) -- and rightly pointed out Paul's frequent use of sibling language (Ari: every time in I read "brothers and sisters" in Borg's NRSV, I ~auto-corrected it to "siblings"). She talked about the idea that there are people who, she can't explain/understand herself apart from them -- those people have so supported/formed her that she can't take any credit on her own.

I said that having read Borg's front matter, I was primed to have the "rapture" passages stick out for me. Borg talks about the fact that Paul wasn't trying to provide a blueprint of the End Times but was reassuring people whose loved ones have died. I was also reminded of Prof. Koester talking about the "meeting Jesus in the air" as not meaning that the people are gonna go up into the sky to live but as just meaning that like when one leaves the walls of a city to meet an incoming king, you go out into the roads ... since Jesus is going to come from the sky, of course that's where you have to go to meet him on his way.

Later in the week, I pulled up my class notes:

1 Thess 4 -- Paul & Timothy forgot to tell them about the resurrection of the dead? that is NOT the problem Paul is addressing. people have died, so what about them when Christ comes?

could not be buried inside city, so buried outside city, along road (esp. fashionable decorated ones) -- people want the tombs of their loved ones to be seen

apanthesis -- what happens if a dignitary comes to a city? city sends out delegation, who meets king/governor/whatever outside the city and leads that person in with a triumphal entrance

meet Christ on clouds because Christ is coming from the heavens -- the parousia is Christ coming back to earth (clouds are not to take people up to the heavens)

ch.5: who will be scared by the coming of the Lord? those who say "peace & security" (e.g., the Empire) -- those people are the first who will perish
Christians: don't be scared, you are already children of the day/light

I mentioned to Chelsea on Sunday that I'm used to Jesus' parables about "no one will know the day or the hour" and that yes, Jesus does also talk about the importance of being prepared, but that this emphasis on "you are children of the light" is something I'm less used to.

Other notes from Koester's class:

1 Thess 2:13-16 -- the wrath against "the Jews" is a non-Pauline interpolation

"[the more difficult reading is a ~good criterion] -- but not in the case where the more difficult reading is idiotic"

Up Next: Galatians

[book | HuffPo article]


* I was thinking about how I have a gut-level love A-J Levine (though I have still never actually read any of her books -- she was at Karl Donfried's retirement symposium #SmithCollege, but my love for her is most connected to her being the "Bible Study" person at the first Convo I went to #Vanderbilt; I was less in love with the last talk I saw her at #Harvard but still) and I was thinking about who else I have these strong gut-level love memories for, and my first thought was Lauren Berlant ("Monster") whom I also first encountered at a talk at Smith and whose work I've never read (I looked her up sometime this past year and her work doesn't actually appeal to me that much).

Continuing to recall my Smith experience, I remember Tammy Baldwin Bruce, who, okay, my dominant memory is, "I wanna be that hot at 41 ... and I want your silver coat," and I would probably find her even more problematic now than I did then -- though still, MUCH better choice than Ann Coulter, Smith College Republicans.

(I have a knee-jerk fondness for Tammy Baldwin, but that's more about a Pavlovian response to #Smith & #queer than any personal experience of mine.)

Who else do I have a gut-level deep and abiding love for from my time at Smith? Okay, "The Naked I," and I think Toby Davis identifies as a trans man, though I have fond memories of S. Bear Bergman but not in the same way that I do e.g. A-J Levine -- huh, I think there's an element of seeing myself in them/wanting to be them, where that happens more intuitively with women-people 'cause I am a woman. I have a lot of love for certain male teachers I had at Smith, and certainly there are male people I admire a lot, and I used to say I wanted to grow up to be Eugene Volokh "thoughtful and consistent and intelligent and knowledgeable and compassionate and yeah," but there's an appeal to awesome women-people that doesn't happen for me with awesome male-people.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

[Evolution of the Word] (the past is) prologue

H!PS-Chelsea and I talked about reading the "New Testament" in ~chronological order, and she reminded me that Marcus Borg put out a book [HuffPo article] which orders the NT documents (NRSV) chronologically (and also includes some front matter), so that's what we're using for our read-through. (Well, I'm using the book anyway -- she may just be using his ordering and not shelling out the cash for the book.)

When she and I were first talking about it, I felt like that's how Bibles "should" be printed (in chronological order) -- which I think makes sense especially since the canonical NT gives the impression of being in chronological order, but it is also true that I'm a Western child of the Enlightenment, can you tell? :)

So I was struck by this in Chapter 3:

I began my introductory New Testament course one year with Paul's letters rather than the gospels. About half of my students had grown up without any involvement in a church, and so they knew little or nothing about Jesus and the gospels. Paul knew about Jesus, but they didn't. They were lost as they tried to figure out what on earth Paul's letters were about. I taught the course that way only once.

I eyeroll at Christians who insist that if you just pick up the Bible (by which I think they might mean the New Testament, I've never asked) and read it through, you'll be converted; but it does make sense to start with the documents which tells stories about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ before moving in to the documents which focus on resolving disputes in communities of Christ-followers.

If one has been raised in a Christian tradition, I think it matters less what order the documents are printed in because you've already absorbed something of an oral tradition -- just like Paul's audience -- but yes, if you're designing a book you can hand to newbies (though seriously, people, that is not how the Bible is intended -- I know, I know, I am All About The Text, but I have been converted to the importance of in-community), you probably don't wanna open with 1 Thessalonians (which Chelsea and I are gonna talk about tomorrow -- you know you wanna read with us :) ).


Borg also talks about why, "when Paul arrived in a new city, he went first to the synagogue--not because his mission was to convert Jews, but because Gentile 'God-lovers' [Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism] would be there" (p.26). He points out:

it is unlikely that Paul preached in synagogues or to crowds of strangers who were completely unfamiliar with Judaism. What would his message, which makes so much use of Jewish language and tradition, have meant to Gentiles who knew nothing about Judaism?
Which got me thinking about how evangelicals in my day present Christianity as its own self-contained thing -- reminded me of an exercise I think we did in some FCS setting once about what we would say in a gospel for our time, as well as reminding me of the troublesome tendency in so many Christian communities to downplay/dismiss/oppose Judaism :/


Other things I didn't know:

In the canon, the thirteen letters attributed to Paul are organized according to two principles. The nine letters addressed to communities are placed first, followed by the four letters addressed to individuals. Then, within each category, the letters are arranged in descending order of length, from longest to shortest. The exception is Galatians; it comes before Ephesians, even though the latter is about two hundred words longer.