Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods

Article excerpt

Bell and Howell Information & Learning: Foreign text omitted.

In Gal 4:21-5:1, Paul presents what he calls an allegory from the law.1 He does not actually quote the text that he interprets allegorically but bases a set of contrasts on the family configuration described in Genesis 16-21. The family configuration includes: the head of household, Abraham; the slave concubine (...), Hagar; the legitimate free wife (...), unnamed; Hagar's son, unnamed; and the son of the legitimate wife, Isaac.2 Paul contrasts the two women and their sons' positions in the family in order to pose a clear choice for his audience and links a series of elements of his argument to each side of the choice.

Paul's allegory has proved enigmatic on several levels. Scholars have sought to explain why this passage has been included at all and why at such a pivotal position in the structure of the letter. Explanations are especially difficult because Paul makes the links in each chain of elements as if the connections were obvious, yet the logic of the connections is hardly self-evident. We are left with an apparently confusing and weak argument where we would expect a clear and strong one.

Here we will see that Paul's presentation would have been quite clear to his audience in Anatolia. Focus on the "audience in Anatolia," however, requires a departure from most previous work on Galatians. Many scholars have focused on Paul's opponents, variously defined, and have tended to equate the context of Galatians with the controversy.3 Most interpretation has also focused on information available in the NT. Scholars who address external evidence have primarily looked to Jewish sources, seeking to explain either Paul or his opponents' perspective by reference to their Jewish background.4 Rhetorical and epistolary criticisms have brought the neglected Greco-Roman context into the picture, and both forms of criticism point toward the importance of the audience.5 Scholars have, nevertheless, so far almost entirely ignored the context of the audience in central Anatolia.6

The present article starts from a deceptively simple assumption: Paul intended to be intelligible and convincing to the audience of the letter and to address what was important to them in their situation. Two corollary assumptions also represent a departure from previous scholarship. First, the context of the audience is at least as informative to us in our attempts to understand the letter as hypothetically reconstructed arguments of Paul's opponents. Second, the religious frame of reference for a primarily Gentile audience must be sought in their non-Jewish and non-Christian milieu as well as in the context to which they have been converted. Attention to the audience and their context results here in a reading of the letter that may seem odd to those steeped in previous scholarship. Yet attention to the context solves a number of difficulties in the letter. Here we will address some of the problems found in Gal 4:21-5:1.7

The first section of the article will explain some of the major difficulties in this passage and will review previously proposed solutions. The second section will summarize some of the prominent and relevant aspects of the central Anatolian religious context. Based on this context, the third section will present a solution to the difficulties and will propose a new view of Paul's understanding of the rhetorical situation and of his rhetorical strategy in response to it. We will see that Paul's seemingly enigmatic presentation in Gal 4:21-5:1 would have been quite clear to his audience in Anatolia, a land overseen by Mountain Mother goddesses, local expressions of the Mother of the Gods. Against the background of these Mountain Mothers and their self-castrated functionaries (galli), the logical links in Paul's allegory and the strength of his argument against circumcision in 4:21-5:1 will be clearer.

1. "Unsolved Mysteries" in Galatians 4:21-5:1

We return to the difficulties that the passage presents. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.