Category Archives: Galatians

is Galatians written against the Roman imperial cult?

What follows is an unedited portion of my dissertation. In the larger context, I am trying to establish that the particular image for the death of Christ would have been known by the people(s) of Galatia. In the end, I believe the image would have been, but the use of an image does not mean St. Paul was writing against the image, rather, like others, he was using the image familiar to others — an image that carried significant weight. Admittedly, I am more surprised over the connection between Galatians and the Celts, not the mention human sacrifice. 

The Pergamon Altar in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin
The Pergamon Altar in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recent Scholarship on The Imperial Cult and Galatians

With the act of the devotio seemingly drawn from Roman sources, it behooves me to mention the current state of scholarship around the imperial cult and the Epistle to the Galatians. While I will not pass judgment on the rise and use of Empire as a lens in reading the New Testament, mainly in American scholarship, one must remember the use of an image found in other cults does not mean Paul is using it to counter or otherwise overtake he previous cult. While devotio as an image is one primarily associated with Roman imperial ideology, I maintain this does not mean Paul used it as an argument against Rome. However, it is necessary to examine recent scholarship, if for nothing else but to show Paul’s audience would have at least known the religious and political implications of the image.

In the recent decade, there have been two major works examining the connection of the imperial cult to the epistle. The first is Galatians Re-Imagined by Brigitte Kahl, a work removing the Judaism of Paul’s opponents, replacing it with a juxtapose against Roman views of law and order.[1] The second work, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, sees the argument of Galatians something akin to a civic rebellion.[2] Rather than delve into the merits and conclusions of their argument, I will examine their evidences of the imperial cult with the corollary that context does not mean argument, rather only serves as an allowance for the use of known images.

Kahl avoids the distinction between North and South as the province of the letter, going much further and connecting it to the whole of the Gaul-Galatia bloodline. She bases this on history as well as the linguistic plight in not separating the Gauls inhabiting the area now known as France and the descendants of the Celtic diaspora occupying an area in Asia Minor as well as a post-Constantinian interpretative strategy she abhors. After promoting her view by using binaries and other linguistic turns, Kahl finally delves into re-imagining Galatians. She removes the Jewish ethnocentrism that is the usual exegetical framework only to replace it with the visual images of the Great Altar of Pergamon.[3] Because of this, she is able to then compare each statement by Paul against Roman images of somewhat equal standing. For instance, God is juxtaposed against the Emperor while the freedom promised by the Gospel is contrasted with Roman (and not Jewish) law. Of course, as usual with Empire critics, “gospel” becomes solely the answer to the Emperor’s news of victory. Kahl adds to the discussion of the possible imperial cult in Galatians only what we already know, that as a Roman province, it was prevalent; however, she does add the ability to see cultic images in Galatians, even if the caol áit are too thin.

One particular image is the use of gladiatorial games as a form of human sacrifice. As often is the case, Kahl begins with the Great Altar where the images of human sacrifice are explicit and then moves to Galatians. She notes the arena is bereft of the usual connotations of ritual sacrifice such as the absence of priests and the need for the community to be reconciled with the deities. However, what are present are segregated spaces, a well-regulated public stage, mythological overtones of blood, and the act of a sacrifice meant to bind the community together. She notes, “the games can be seen to have a cathartic effect by vicariously eliminating violence and evil dwelling not only outside but also inside the social body, for example, in terms of slave or gladiatorial rebellions, treachery, and civil wars (emphasis mine).”[4] The battle becomes a sacrifice to purify the community of violence, reuniting the community after a struggle. That the Galatians were not foreign to human sacrifice is forever recorded by Diodorus.[5] The act of human sacrifice had become abhorrent to the Romans, but was still welcomed and proclaimed among the Galatians.[6]

Justin K. Hardin’s work fleshes the imperial cult out, adding another dimension. Hardin writes, “It is clear that often the public worship of the emperor, rather than supplanting the local pagan religions in the Greek East, was simply amalgamated with it.”[7] Galatia was a unique province within the Roman Empire. Augustus colonized both north and south, although the southern portion of the province required quelling (c. 5 BCE).[8] Because of this, unlike other Greek ruling cults brought in with various new rulers, the Roman imperial cult began by Augustus, moved into all realm of the public and private life exactly because it was designed too.[9] It “superseded traditional religious worship with a uniform system of religious devotion” binding the colonized lands with the Emperor, rather than other forms of Roman religion. While the people inhabiting the province of Galatia had long roots back to Gaul, with those roots transporting and preserving their native religion, their indigenous deities and temples were replaced (at least in importance) with the Roman ritualistic caste. For instance, Pessinus, while often thought to be the temple of Cybele (who will factor into our discussion later) is devoted instead to the Roman cult.[10] While this substitution took place, the people of the province were able to avoid assimilation. Even at the Pessinus temple, Celtic priests still performed rituals making use of both Rome and indigenous cultic aspects.[11]

While both Kahl and Hardin go one to reinterpret Galatians in light of the surrounding, provincial, imperial cult they see, they both fail to make use of the non-assimilationist stance held by the non-Jewish population of Galatia. If the native religion could prevent assimilation, then it is more than likely the Jews (with their imperial protection) would not feel the overall pressure as both Kahl and Hardin suggest they do, even a new sect within Judaism. However, what both show is that the imperial cultic images were prevalent in Galatia while not acting as a major threat and at times were themselves transformed to aid the local religion. This allowed other images to be used in dialogic currency. Further, while Hardin does not focus on it, Kahl does mention the very visual presence of human sacrifice in the public arena, and it is a sacrifice used for both civic and cultic binding. Finally, neither sees the death of Christ as any particular theological or ideological turn in Paul’s letter. It is imply another part.

[1] Brigitte Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading With the Eyes of the Vanquished (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010).

[2] Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult: A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

[3] For instance, Kahl attempts to compare Paul’s prologue (Galatians 1.1–9) with the physical image of the Great Altar (246–47). It is based on the imagery of war and wrestling.

[4] Kahl, Re-imagining Galatians, 163.

[5] Kahl connects the human sacrifices of the Gauls/Galatians to the sacrificial act of sacking Rome as well as the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (42–3). Of a particular note is the sacrifice of a Galatian man and woman (as well as Greek pairing) twice in Rome during the Second Punic War in a devotio meant to save the city from devastation. Hannibal, the threat to Rome, never managed to sack Rome, but would soon find Carthage itself sacrificed to the gods in the place of Rome. See James Smith Reid, “Human Sacrifices at Rome and Other Notes on Roman Religion,” in Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 2. (1912), 34­–52 and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi, “The Specters of Roman Imperialism:The Live Burials of Gaulsand Greeks at Rome,” Classical Antiquity. Vol. 26. (2007), 277–304.

[6] Kahl suggests Nero reenacted the return to human sacrifice on behalf of easing social tension and creating a new social order (or city, in this case) when he charged the Christians with setting Rome on fire (296).

[7] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 40. Unlike either the Roman imperial cult or the indigenous Celtic cults, Judaism was not local, but rather focused back to Jerusalem.

[8] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 49, 56.

[9] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 47.

[10] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 41. See also Marc Waelkens, “The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus: Archaeological, Epigraphical and Numismatic Evidence for Its Date and Identification.” Epigraphcia Anatolica, Vol 7 1986, 37–72; and, John Devreker, Thoen Hugo, and Vermeulen Frank, “The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus and its Predecessors: A Revision.” Anatolia Antiqua, Tome 3, 1995. 125-144.

[11] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 69. Hardin mentions the use of sacrifices performed by the priests, much as Kahl above. What not as clear as Kahl, Hardin notes that the Temple had as part of its complex a Roman-style arena. These priests would provide gladiatorial games and other hecatombs during their tenure, allowing the priest to offer sacrifices that combined civic and cultic intents. See Stephen Mitchell, “Galatia under Tiberius,” Chiron, Vol 16., 1986, 17–33.

Why Jesus is not a Scapegoat (Leviticus 16.6 is not in Galatians 3.13)

These Cards We're Dealt
These Cards We’re Dealt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is due to my dissertation which at some point may be completed or even, one day, started on. This is more of an exercise to put some words down on paper. 

The use of the scapegoat image is prevalent in describing Paul’s intention in Galatians 3.10–14; however, to do so leaves us open to the possibility of a God who has sinned, or at the very least, a God who has previously offered a sacrifice for himself before he offered Jesus as the scapegoat.

Martyn writes,

By using this linguistic pattern the early Christian who formulated the confession quoted in 2 Corinthians 5:21 expressed two convictions: (a) sin is something that can be transferred from one person to another; (b) God transferred our sin to Christ, thus freeing us from its effect.1

Before I tackle this statement outright, let me draw your attention to Leviticus 16.6:

He must offer the bull reserved for his purification-offering and make expiation for himself and his household. (REB)

The “he” in this first is the Aaronic priest. Notice, the priest requires a sacrifice himself to atone for his sins. This is not akin to baptism or any other act we find in the Gospels attributed to Jesus. Or, rather, there is no act recorded in the New Testament whereby Jesus first atoned for his sins before offering himself as a sacrifice. Indeed, there is some contention as to whether Paul thought Jesus sinless (Romans 8.3). But, this doesn’t matter so much as what it would require of God. If Jesus is the sacrifice offered by God, then to have Jesus as a scapegoat would require God to have previously atoned for his own sins. 

Unless, of course, we ignore that part because God is sinless. But can we? The priest atoned for his sins in order to transfer the sins to the scapegoat. He could act only as a conduit for a short time because he would soon be sinless. The scapegoat would then take away the sins of all of Israel, including the priest. It was all inclusive. Added to this, Jesus is referred to as our high priest in Hebrews, not God. In John, Jesus is the lamb that removes the sins of the world. But, I’m getting canonical here.

Is there something better to explain the language of Galatians 3.13?

Christ bought us freedom from the curse of the law by coming under the curse for our sake; for scripture says, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a gibbet.’ (REB)

I don’t think we can get the idea of transference here. If we go outside Galatians, even in incorporating 2 Co 5.21, there is plenty of other language to prevent the idea that God transferred our sins (acting as a high priest) to Christ. Yes, Christ took our sins, but he became a curse. He did it.

I don’t think there is one particular image of the death of Christ in Paul, although they all revolve around a sacrifice. I’m not saying that scapegoat (if by this we mean a transference-then-sacrifice) is not one of them. I think we can clearly see that 2 Co. 5.21 is a perfect example of this. However, I don’t think it is what is intended here.

  1. J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 33A; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven;  London: Yale University Press, 2008), 318.

Book Notice: Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter @bakeracademic

How did I miss this? 

The letter to the Galatians is a key source for Pauline theology as it presents Paul’s understanding of justification, the gospel, and many topics of keen contemporary interest. In this volume, some of the world’s top Christian scholars offer cutting-edge scholarship on how Galatians relates to theology and ethics.

The stellar list of contributors includes John Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, Richard Hays, Bruce McCormack, and Oliver O’Donovan. As they emphasize the contribution of Galatians to Christian theology and ethics, the contributors explore how exegesis and theology meet, critique, and inform each other.

Contents

Part 1: Justification
1. Messiahship in Galatians? N. T. Wright
2. Paul’s Former Occupation in Ioudaismos Matthew V. Novenson
3. Galatians in the Early Church: Five Case Studies Karla Pollmann and Mark W. Elliott
4. Justification and Participation: Ecumenical Dimensions of Galatians Thomas Söding
5. Arguing with Scripture in Galatia: Galatians 3:10-14 as a Series of Ad Hoc Arguments Timothy G. Gombis
6. Martin Luther on Galatians 3:6-14: Justification by Curses and Blessings Timothy Wengert
7. Yaein: Yes and No to Luther’s Reading of Galatians 3:6-14 Scott Hafemann
8. “Not an Idle Quality or an Empty Husk in the Heart”: A Critique of Tuomo Mannermaa on Luther and Galatians Javier A. Garcia
9. Judaism, Reformation Theology, and Justification Mark W. Elliott
10. Can We Still Speak of “Justification by Faith”? An In-House Debate with Apocalyptic Readings of Paul Bruce McCormack

Part 2: Gospel
11. The Singularity of the Gospel Revisited Beverly Roberts Gaventa
12. Apocalyptic Poiēsis in Galatians: Paternity, Passion, and Participation Richard B. Hays
13. “Now and Above; Then and Now” (Gal. 4:21-31): Platonizing and Apocalyptic Polarities in Paul’s Eschatology Michael B. Cover
14. Christ in Paul’s Narrative: Salvation History, Apocalyptic Invasion, and Supralapsarian TheologyEdwin Chr. van Driel
15. “In the Fullness of Time” (Gal. 4:4): Chronology and Theology in Galatians Todd D. Still
16. Karl Barth and “The Fullness of Time”: Eternity and Divine Intent in the Epistle to the GalatiansDarren O. Sumner
17. “Heirs through God”: Galatians 4:4-7 and the Doctrine of the Trinity Scott R. Swain

Part 3: Ethics
18. Flesh and Spirit Oliver O’Donovan
19. “Indicative and Imperative” as the Substructure of Paul’s Theology-and-Ethics in Galatians?: A Discussion of Divine and Human Agency in Paul Volker Rabens
20. Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6John M. G. Barclay
21. Paul’s Exhortations in Galatians 5:16-25: From the Apostle’s Techniques to His Theology Jean-Noël Aletti
22. The Drama of Agency: Affective Augustinianism and Galatians Simeon Zahl
23. Life in the Spirit and Life in Wisdom: Reading Galatians and James as a Dialogue Mariam J. Kamell
Indexes

a weekend prayer, from an ancient Gallican liturgy (thanks to @bolin_thomas)

I found this, via Logos, as part of my current dissertation work. You will note why, I believe.

A Roman copy of a Greek statue commemorating t...
A Roman copy of a Greek statue commemorating the victory over the Galatians called The Dying Gaul. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Thomas Bolin for this translation,

Omnipotentis Domini misericordiam depraecemur, ut acceptum referat divina dignatio quidquid altaribus suis infert humana sedulitas. Ratas faciat praeces et vota cunctorum; et quod devotio inpendit ad gratiam, poscentibus profeciat ad salutem. ad quem redi reviviscere ; quem nemo amittit, nisi errore deceptus ; nemo quaerit, nisi ratione commonitus ; nemo invenit, nisi corde conpunctu.

We entreat the mercy of almighty God, that the painstaking mortal attention brought to any of his altars may be made acceptable to the divine dignity. May He render acceptable every prayer and offering, that whatever devotion is exerted toward grace will succeed in its demands for salvation to You who are ready to give life again, whom no one loses unless deceived by error, whom no one seeks unless by the force of reason, to whom no one comes without a repentant heart.

Thanks to Tom for this!

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Paul’s Anger – Reading Galatians post-Fundamentalism

I’ve chided my brother the Apostle Paul for the past few weeks for his uncontrollable temper in dealing with the Galatians. And I laughed this morning when he urged his audience to use gentleness in dealing with those in sin. I have suggested that the best way to read Galatians was in fact the way Luther did it – with beer. Stone cold dead drunk.

But, we were discussing it today, and the reason for Paul’s anger hit me. Stone cold hit me.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5.1)

Paul was coming from a sect he believed was enslaving. We see this in later treatments of the Pharisees in the Gospels, but for now, Paul believes that the whole of the Law’s physical (ritualistic) requirements were enslaving the Gentiles to whom Christ has set free. I don’t want to get into NPP v. Luther, PSA v. CV; however, I understand his anger.

Paul was reacting against the enslaving power he saw in his former life – he was reacting against himself.

As one who has come from Fundamentalism, I know the feeling. I know the feeling when someone insists that we read Scripture only one way because that is the way they believe authority will be upheld. Or when we must dress a certain way, or when this or that is what is needed to be a real Christian. A real Christian… is no longer about faith in/of Christ, but about finding approval in the eyes of the mortal beholders.

Paul’s wrath is surely felt against those who would bring circumcision to the Galatians and perhaps unjustly in some cases; yet, I know that when I run into fundamentalists, especially those who insist on evangelizing others, of spreading fear, shame, and bondage, my anger gets the best of me. Not because I am weak and temperamental, but because I know the oppression that comes with fundamentalism, and I know the freedom that comes with real faith. When I sees others attempting to enslave the free, my blood boils.

So, maybe I need not be too concerned with my brother Paul’s anger, for the most part – knowing that if I had the chance, I would be just as angry against fundamentalists as well.