Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

NOTES
1
For a study of the nature and ideology of imperial Roman warfare as experienced by the Jews in 70 CE see Philip Esler’s essay ‘God’s Honour and Rome’s Triumph: Responses to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in three Jewish apocalypses’ in the present volume.
2
Although there is an excellent survey on the topic by Bauckham (1993), I do not think I would tackle the topic from the point of Traditionsgeschichte as he does. As in this essay, I believe the subject needs to be dealt with from the perspective of war as a social institution in the first- and second-century Mediterranean world.
3
See Jacobs-Malina 1993 and the recent discussion in the BTB by Batten 1994, Love 1994, LaHurd 1994, Neyrey 1994 and the essay by Joubert in the present volume.
4
See also the relative extremes of a Mennonite, pacifist interpretation such as Barrett 1987 and the philosophical approach of Simmons 1986. The former ‘spiritualizes’ the historical horrors of war in the Bible, whereas the latter makes a spiritual virtuef out of winning wars, ancient or modern.
5
Note also the comments on the extended military vocabulary in the letters of the New Testament in Harnack (1981); the military character of the phrases is well captured in the Iliad in Agamemnon’s speech to the Danaans, ‘My friends, be men, have a stout heart, and in the field fear nothing but dishonour in each other’s eyes’ (5.529-530; trans. Rieu 1950:106).
6
With what follows compare the discussion on metaphor in the Bible in Pfisterer Darr (1994). Much of what Pfisterer Darr states is important. If there is one criticism to be levelled it is that the cultural element of the use of metaphor is absent from the discussion. It is no accident that when this cultural variable is missing theories of ‘substitution’, that is, that metaphors are mere embellishments for other accessible words, can take root. In what follows close attention is paid to the cultural context of the use of metaphor.
7
All biblical quotations that follow are from the New Revised Standard Version.
8
The need to ‘stand fast’ was paramount in armies of antiquity. When a line of infantry broke and fled, panic ensued and the killing times began. A fleeing army, unable to defend itself and lacking in cohesion, was easy prey for the pursuers. Estimates of casualties among the defeated force were as high as 80 per cent. See V D. Hanson (1989:135-209); R. Gabriel and K. Metz (1991:81-110). The poet of Ps. 18 knows this experience of killing a fleeing enemy (see vss. 7-15).
9
For a discussion of high and low context societies, see Malina 1991 a: 19 20.
10
In the Iliad Athene (5.733-747; Rieu 1950:112), Agamemnon (11.15-46; Rieu 1950:197-198), Patroclus (16.130-144; Rieu 1950:295-296) and Achilles (19.364-390; Rieu 1950:363-364) all are portrayed as donning their armour with deliberation before conflict.
11
The stunning scene in which the vengeful father dresses in his armour before searching out his daughter’s killers is the highlight of Bergman’s Virgin Spring. The device has been copied, with lessening effect, in many inferior films.
12
I would suggest that ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ in modern jargon are a post-Enlightenment construct and have little to do with what Paul refers to as the ‘fleshly’ (sarfakos) and the ‘spiritual’ (psychikos). Both Testaments of the Christian Bible and much other narrative literature of the ancient Mediterranean world (e.g. the Iliad) take for granted the interaction between humans and the gods at a level of reality lost to Western thinkers. For a deeper analysis see Pilch 1993a and his essay in the present volume.
13
See the articles by Plevnik and Malina in Pilch and Malina 1993:95-103; 133-136.
14
For a good discussion of the use of metaphor in religious language see Soskice 1985. The use of metaphor in connection with apocalyptic literature is raised by Esler 1994a: 107.

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