Centre for the Study of Christian Origins

Paul: A “Hybrid” Jew?


(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.