Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Did Paul Loathe Manual Labor? Revisiting the Work of Ronald F. Hock on the Apostle's Tentmaking and Social Class

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Did Paul Loathe Manual Labor? Revisiting the Work of Ronald F. Hock on the Apostle's Tentmaking and Social Class

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

According to Acts 18:3, Paul, along with Aquila and Priscilla, was a ... by trade. Although this specific claim is not corroborated by Paul in his letters, interpreters tend to accept this particular Lukan tradition at face value.1 There is scholarly dispute, however, regarding the precise nature of the apostle's handcraft. In short, scholars differ over whether Paul was a weaver who made tentcloth from cilicium (i.e., goats' hair) or if Paul was a leatherworker who crafted leather products, including tents.2 Notable exceptions notwithstanding, a sizable majority now espouse the latter view,3 although Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has proposed that Paul would have been equally adept in working with both leather and canvas.4

Turning to Paul's episties, one discovers a number of texts where the apostle speaks of his manual labor in general terms (see esp. 1 Thess2:9; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:6; 2 Cor 11:27; cf. 2 Thess 3:8; Acts 20:34-35). Taken together, these passages suggest that Paul supported himself in the midst of his ministry by plying a trade. Even if he occasionally received material assistance from given congregations and persons (note 2 Cor 11:9; Phil 4:15-16; Rom 16:1-2, 23), it was Paul's stated missionary policy and practice to be fiscally independent (see esp. 1 Cor 9:12,15,18).

Contemporary interpreters of Paul concur that the apostle worked as an artisan in conjunction with his mission. They are also agreed that his toil as a tentmaker marked not only his missionary activity but also his apostolic self-understanding.5 Pauline scholars have rarely asked, however, how the apostle regarded his labor as a leatherworker. Roughly a quarter of a century ago, Ronald F. Hock called into question the common scholarly assumption that Paul viewed (his) work favorably. In contradistinction, he posited "that Paul's view of his trade and of work in general was not as positive as is often assumed."6 Although Pauline interpreters have sometimes questioned this provocative proposal in passing, I am not aware of a sustained response to Hock on this particular issue.7 This essay examines Hock's contention, which cuts against the grain of interpretive tradition.8

At least two related working hypotheses appear to support Hock's view that Paul possessed a "snobbish and scornful attitude" toward work.9 First is the observation that upper-class Greeks and Romans regarded manual labor as something "slavish and demeaning." second is the suggestion that Paul hailed "from a relatively high social class."10 If both of these suppositions are correct, then one only needs to take a small syllogistic step with Hock in order to conclude that Paul, like any self-respecting aristocrat of his day, viewed work with an upper-crust disgust." In this critical note we will discover what taking this step entails and will consider where such an interpretive trail leads.

Although Justin J. Meggitt has noted primary sources that demonstrate "the equivocal nature of attitudes towards physical labour amongst all elements in first-century society,"12 for the purposes of this essay I will grant the point that in Greco-Roman antiquity the wealthy looked disparagingly upon work.131 will not, however, presuppose with Hock (and a number of other contemporary Pauline scholars) that Paul was "born with a silver spoon in his mouth."14 Nor will I maintain with Meggitt that Paul was "a real leatherworker from the cradle to the grave (and not some kind of financially embarrassed aristocrat or the like)."15 Rather, without positing a particular social class from which the apostle arose, I will seek to ascertain how he viewed (his) manual labor by examining pertinent texts from the Thessalonian and Corinthian letters.16 Before analyzing these particular passages, however, an overview of Hock's groundbreaking work on Paul and tentmaking is in order. Placing our specific inquiry into a broader frame will allow for a clearer view of both the contextual forest and the exegetical trees. …

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