Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Wife of the Father: Analytic Kin Circumlocution and the Case for Corinthian Adultery

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Wife of the Father: Analytic Kin Circumlocution and the Case for Corinthian Adultery

Article excerpt

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It is actually heard that among you there is porneia, and such porneia that is not even among the nations: that some man has his father's wife [wore yuvaïxà riva tou marpôç e^eiv]. And you are haughty! And should you not have rather mourned, in order that the one having done this deed would be removed from your midst?1 (1 Cor 5:1-2)

Two assumptions have defined modern exegesis of 1 Cor 5: first, that Paul's phrase yuv^ tou narpoç ("father's wife") echoes similar constructions found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy;2 and, second, that the instance of nopvsia ("sexual immorality") to which Paul refers is an incestuous relationship between a man's son and his, the father's, sexual partner.3 Several factors, however, militate against such readings. I maintain that the instigating scandal that Paul confronts in 1 Cor 5, ... is not an oblique echo of Levitical incest prohibitions. Rather, Paul's ... is a standard locution in antiquity, and, further, what made this particular sexual pairing so egregious to Paul was its location-an inneroixoç adultery. Only when Paul's language is decoupled from its presumed Levitical counterpart is 1 Cor 5 able to be read fluidly with both the homonoia argument of chapters 1-4 and Paul's continued discourse on marriage and the oixoç ("household") in chapters 6-7.


Kin terms are divided into various subgroups depending on the precise relationship between the two parties associated: consanguineal/affinal, collateral/ lineal, and parallel/cross kinship.4 In these constructions, the two parties are separated into anchors and referents. For example, in the phrase "John's brother is tall" John functions as the anchor while his brother is the referent. Anchors are further distinguished between explicit and implicit. The former are explicitly identified, as in the example above. The latter lack any express identification of the anchor, who may be understood contextually or may be intentionally out of focus (e.g., the belligerent brother harped on him).5 Kin terms are further categorized according to proper/improper use. Proper kin terms reflect actual kin relationships, whereas improper kin terms may connote either a kin connection or some other use outside the kinship system (e.g., her old man). Finally, kin terms are used both in simple kin constructions and analytic kin circumlocutions. Simple kin terms describe kin relations between two people via only one kinsman. On the other hand, Niklas Jonsson defines analytic kin circumlocutions as designating a relationship between two kin members "described by explicitly linking a number of kinsmen to each other" (e.g., Jenna's sister's wife).6

Analytic kin circumlocution was a common phenomenon in Greek and Latin literature. As in English, this is a well-known and commonly practiced way of referring to relatives: your brother's husband (i.e., your brother-in-law), her dad's wife (i.e., her stepmother). Often this is a focalizing or clarifying tactic intended to highlight a particular aspect of a tripartite relationship. For instance, the evil stepmother trope is often navigated by distancing tactics: said resentfully, "she's my dad's wife" The intention is to dissociate one party from another through an intermediary. At other times, periphrasis is undertaken to stress one's close relationship to another through an intermediary: "I can't hire him; he's my brother's son" However it is used, periphrasis introduces a third party, which focalizes and contextualizes the relationship between the other two parties. In 1 Cor 5:1 that is precisely what Paul has created: yuvaïxa Tiva toö naTpôç. Admittedly, this particular phrase might have been familiar to readers of septuagintal Leviticus or Deuteronomy.7 Leviticus 18:8 reads yuvaixoç naTpôç aou ("your father's wife"), and similarly 20:11, ... ("his father's wife"); so also Deut 23:1, ... ("his father's wife"), and 27:20, . …

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