Last week, the dance for me was around Dualism of flesh and spirit, freedom and law…
This week, we keep unlearning, I hope: These are the proof-texts of Christian anti-Semitism, and more general of coercive missionaries. Don’t forget week #1, problem and response, or week #2, freedom and law, Paul and Torah. Let’s spend more time this week on ‘us’ than ‘them’ while staying tentative about ‘othering’ or ‘objectifying’ reading confessionally, as Paul or his agents, or as the Romans and other audience will avoid the dangers of claiming to read ‘objectively’.
So why’s Paul feeling sorrow, anguish, pain – for whom?
Absolutely, unlearn your current semantic field for words like ‘Jews’ or ‘Israel’ whatever Paul meant by these nouns is very different! In our generation, the state of Israel exists in fact. Biblical claims to land, citizenship processes, border controls, military and police coercion have been made concrete since 1948, and occupation of Palestine since 1967.
The generations of the last century saw genocide, the Holocaust of 6 million Jews, modern people denying one could be German and Jewish, modern states like ours denying entry to stateless Jews. No wonder that the state, its land and citizens, are defended, no wonder that responses to political Zionism vary so widely.
When Paul writes in Corinth, the Orient is a province of Rome, local government of Palestine through clients of Caesar, the empire replacing the earlier republic.
Paul enjoys Roman citizenship – his Jewish identity is not as a citizen of a modern nation-state. Culture and commerce was largely Greek for Paul – the language spoken in the markets the language of the original text of Romans, came from earlier empires – Alexander 300 years before, and Ptolemaic and Seleucid successors. Latin was the ascendant language of imperial business, and scripture will crystallize in Jerome’s Vulgate, 300 more years after Paul – but writing here of ‘Jews and Gentiles’ or ‘Jews and Greeks’, or ‘circumcised and uncircumcised’ are contested categories in a multicultural context.
Our increasing familiarity with these contested issues includes TRC (truth and reconciliation commission) perspectives: we speak and write in English, imposed on First Nations, part of ‘settler culture’, relying on land tenure traced to ‘treaties’, renegotiating citizenship and first nations ‘status’: culture appropriation – who belongs as citizen, band member, or claiming any ethnicity, and who speaks for ‘us’ – land tenure – collective ownership of ‘reserves’, or rights ‘granted’ by the ‘crown’ are not easily reconciled.
May I unilaterally declare my membership in nation, or religious community, or do the institutions of the nation or community recognize, or establish belonging. What are the criteria: birth parents, family choices, beliefs, location, obedience to shared norms?
Talk of Abraham seems esoteric to start – but we may visit this week how 3 faith groups read it: Jews, Christians, and Muslims appeal to Abrahamic origins!
I have reached my 500 words –
Better you take this first day of the week to read for yourself:
What word do you have for our hearts,
O God give us ears to hear. Amen.