(Jewish Diaspora and Christian World: c. 54 C.E.-Present)
Mary A. Maleski
In his epistles to the Corinthians, St. Paul profoundly transforms the thentraditional concept of the fool into a pattern for human perfection. He does this by exhorting his audience of fledgling Christians to be fools, that is, to embrace the folly of the cross, which for them remained a cultural symbol of dire disgrace. Ultimately, his translation of Christ's cross from a sign of foolish weakness to that of glorious spiritual power would inspire not only his contemporaries but also reformers such as Martin Luther, religious communities such as the Franciscans, and major writers such as Erasmus, Donne, and Shakespeare.
Paul's peculiarly Christian fool does, of course, mimic the characteristics of other fools: entitled to be in the company of the worthies, she or he gets away with saying things at times comic, at times outrageously forthright, even disarmingly wise. Paul's original ideas about the power and wisdom of Christ (the Christian) as fool depend, however, on his own privileged mystical experience (see Segal), and they fit within the larger context of his apocalyptic vision of salvation history (see Beker, Paul the Apostle; Alexandra Brown). They also derive from the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures that nourished him.
Thus in his fool talk, as in all else he does in his mission to convert the Gentiles, Paul fixes his gaze on Christ crucified, whom he loves. Hans Kung stresses that "the crucified Jesus Christ who has been raised to life by God stands in the centre of Paul's view of God and man. So in favour of human beings, there is a christocentricity which is grounded and comes to a climax in a theocentricity" ( Kung22-23; see also Fitzmyer, "Pauline" 1388:28). Paul's fool of 1 and 2 Corinthians, the key texts, is essentially a theological creation; nevertheless, it would radically alter the literary as well as the religious expres-