Paul: A “Hybrid” Jew?

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(Larry Hurtado)  I found Dr. Ehrensperger’s presentation last Friday in the CSCO seminar very well researched, incisive and persuasive.  Essentially, she was approaching the question of how to place Paul in terms of his cultural identify, focusing on his use of languages.  Her main thesis was that the metaphor of “hybrid” is not the best, as it connotes some amalgam of things, e.g., a “third thing” out of two others.  Drawing upon recent studies of bi/multi-lingualism, and more careful studies of the engagement of dominated with dominant cultures, she proposed other images, e.g., “layered”/multiple identities. 

One striking quote she gave was from the 2nd-century CE writer, Aulius Gellius (Attic Nights, 17.17.1), who referred to a figure describing himself as having “three hearts”, each of which represented one of the linguistic/cultural forces that he owned (Greek, Oscan and Latin).  In Paul’s case too, she proposed, we appear to have a man who doggedly continued to affirm his Jewishness and Hebraic upbringing, who also obviously wrote passable Greek (but not in fact highly sophisticated or elegant Greek of the time), and who used a Latin name (“Paulus” = “small/little”, so would “shorty” do?). 

Contra some claims today, Paul does not show deep acquaintance with Greek philosophy or literature.  The only identifiable references or allusions he makes are to the Greek OT (although he seems to show an ability to make his own rendering of the Hebrew OT in some places).  He was well aware of his shortcomings as a speaker (e.g., 2 Cor 10:10) and rhetorician.  He remained convinced that he was the divinely appointed agent of the God of his (Jewish) ancestors, charged with enfranchising godless gentiles into obedience to this one true God. 

Ehrensperger’s presentation was an overture to a larger project on Paul that she is embarking on now.  I look forward to seeing the full harvest of her efforts.

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About larryhurtado

I'm a scholar in New Testament and Christian Origins, currently Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh (since 1996), and previously Professor in the Department of Relgiion, University of Manitoba.

3 responses »

  1. While Paul did not have a “deep” acquaintance with Greek philosophy or literature, he did quote some Greek works:

    i. In Acts 17:28, Paul quoted Cleanthes.
    ii. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul quoted Menander.
    iii. In Titus 1:12, Paul quoted Epimenides.

    This according to Carson and Moo in their Introduction to the NT (Zondervan, 2005).

    Would there be a work you could recommend that pertains to Paul’s knowledge of the Hellenistic (i.e., literature, mannerisms [cf. 1 Cor. 19:21], etc.)?

    • With most NT scholars (I think), I take the speech in Acts 17 as a composition by the author, not a verbatim record of something Paul said. The epigram from Menander in 1 Cor 15:33 was an everyday saying by Paul’s time, rather the way sayings from Shakespeare can be used by people who may very well never have read Shakespeare. So, it’s dubious to make much rest on this. As for Titus, as you may know its authorship is widely doubted. In any case, it’s another instance of a well-worn saying that derived from Epimenides but had got into the “ground water” of the time.
      For a book that probes more the matter more positively, see Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Fortress Press,1989).

  2. Pingback: Elsewhere (01.28.2012) « Near Emmaus

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