Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Galatians 3:1 as an Allusion to Textual Prophecy

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Galatians 3:1 as an Allusion to Textual Prophecy

Article excerpt

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In Gal 3:1 Paul admonishes his readers for the "foolishness" they have exhibited in straying from his teachings about Christ. His palpable frustration, if not outright disdain, reaches a fever pitch in a relative clause that reminds the Galatians of their visual knowledge of Christ crucified, whatever he might mean by ... . The standard interpretation of the statement presumes that Paul is referring to a moving oration on the subject of the crucifixion that he had delivered while among them. Thus, the NRSV translation of the verse reads, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!" His interrogation is poignant: How could they, the ones to whom he had vividly imparted this climactic and compelling story of Christ, so readily disregard its import?

Despite a scholarly consensus about the context implied in 3:1, the precise scenario to which Paul alludes in the latter part of the verse remains, in my view, somewhat inscrutable.1 The strength of the rhetorical interpretation may owe much to its longevity; from as early as the fifth century most commentators on Galatians have understood Paul to be referring to a time when he proclaimed Christ to the Galatians in the manner of a classically trained orator. To the contrary, I argue that the verse as a whole, and 3:1b in particular, should be taken as one of several instances in his letters where Paul alludes to prophecies-ostensibly about Christ and the eschatological implications of Jesus's life-that he has divined from Judean texts he held to be divinely inspired, authoritative, and oracular (hereafter "Judean writings").2 This interpretation is not only plausible in the immediate context of the letter but also more consonant with the role of textual practices within Paul's larger religious program.3 Moreover, it is upheld by at least one Pauline interpreter, if not more, prior to the fifth century, when, for reasons that I will discuss momentarily, there seems to be a decisive shift away from the prophetic connotations of the verse in favor of the rhetorical interpretation that still prevails today.

Beyond the congruity of Gal 3:1 to wider discussions of the translation and reception history of the Pauline Epistles, I suggest that the verse is of interest because it may capture affinities between Paul and certain contemporaneous religious actors, namely, self-authorized specialists in religious knowledge and skills (divination, initiation, healing, etc.), especially ones with intellectualizing tendencies whose particular forms of expertise involved the production and interpretation of esoteric texts.4 The scholarship on these experts, many of whom enlisted their learning to devise innovative religious offerings, has grown considerably in recent years, with the result that Paul's textual practices are now being examined, and profitably so, with the benefit of a body of evidence that is both richer and more variegated yet also clearly delimited as a particular mode of religiosity.5 Thus, while the stakes attached to a single clause may seem slight, situating Paul's appeals to written prophecies about Christ amid a broader trend of divining from inspired writings positions Paul within a particular subset of religious activity populated by assorted specialists with comparable techniques, interests, and strategies of legitimation.6

I. Galatians 3:1b as Vivid Rhetoric

Paul's condemnation of the Galatians at the beginning of chapter 3 poses something of an interpretive conundrum. On the one hand, most scholars agree that ... refers to a teaching about the crucifixion that Paul imparted while in Galatia. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine what, precisely, a visual presentation of Christ crucified would have entailed. Such a scenario is far from self-evident to the modern reader, with the result that commentators on Galatians have sought clarification in the writings of Paul's contemporaries, mainly authorities on the conventions of classical rhetoric. …

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