Sunday, May 25, 2008

Seland Review, #4

Fourth installment.

Chapter 2: παροικος και παρεπιδημος: Proselyte Characterizations in 1 Peter?

This chapter appeared in 2001 in the Bulletin for Biblical Research. Seland gives the basic thesis of the chapter as follows: "In some Diaspora Jewish works, the terms παροικος and παρεπιδημος belong to the semantic field 'proselyte/proselytism'" (40). He does not hereby mean that the audience had literally been proselytes to Judaism prior to becoming Christians (van Unnik's position). Rather, drawing on Lakoff and Johnson, the social world of proselytes provides the "source domain" of the terms, which are then applied in the "target domain" of Petrine Christians. I believe Seland considers this line of thought to be the signature contribution to scholarship of the book as a whole.

Part 1
In good fashion, the first part of the chapter runs through the primary suggestions in play about the social location of the audience. van Unnik believed the audience had literally been proselytes to Judaism before becoming Christians (42-44). Klaus Berger does not believe they were literally proselytes, but sees their situation as similar to that of Jewish proselytes (44).

Of course the best known social theory in relation to 1 Peter is that of John Elliott, who has argued that the audience had literally been resident aliens in the regions of the letter before they had become Christians (44-46). Frankly, this thesis and its impact boggle my mind. Are we really to suppose that there was such a well defined group of Christian visitors or literal exiles in this entire region for an author to single out the group in a letter of this proportion?

Seland points to several features that militate against Elliott's hypothesis (62). For example, 1:17 suggests that their time of exile coincides with their time of waiting for salvation. 4:3 similarly hints that they were not in the same situation prior to becoming Christians. Finally, the use of ως in 2:11 points to a more metaphorical sense to the terms "aliens" and "exiles."

Seland clearly favors a more metaphorical understanding, although not the traditional metaphor of Christians as pilgrims on earth awaiting a home in heaven. Others who have taken a more nuanced metaphorical understanding include Troy Martin, who sees the Diaspora as the controlling metaphor, and Reinhard Feldmeier, who sees the people of Israel as the dominant one.

To move forward, Seland then takes a moment to present Lakoff and Johnson's basic categorization of metaphors (50-51), concluding that language of the audience as "aliens" and "strangers" constitute a "structural metaphor." The social situation of the audience is metaphorically "structured" like the social situation of proselytes to Judaism.

Part 2
In the second part of the essay, Torrey explores background literature in the Hebrew Bible, LXX, and Philo. In the Hebrew Bible, he is interested in the expression גר ותושב, of which παροικος is the usual translation (52-56). Indeed, on 10 occasions the Hebrew phrase is translated as παροικος και παρεπιδημος. Citing a number of places where these terms seem interchangeable with the term προσηλυτος, his basic conclusion is that "παροικος and παρεπιδημος are proselyte-related terms" (56).

In Philo, Seland finds a "conceptual closeness of strangers and proselytes" (59). The Hebrew Bible describes Abraham as a גר ותושב, which the LXX renders παροικος και παρεπιδημος, as in 1 Peter 2:11. Yet Philo considers Abraham the model of a proselyte to the true God, who departs from the idols of Chaldea for the one God (e.g., Virt. 219).

I will confess already that I do not find this evidence compelling toward the interpretation of 1 Peter at this point. Seland has only demonstrated that there is a conceptual overlap between the three terms παροικος, παρεπιδημος, and προσηλυτος. The Hebrew is irrelevant to the interpretation of 1 Peter except insofar as it might illuminate the way the author of 1 Peter is likely to have understood these terms.

But all this shows is that these terms could be used in relation to proselytes. Seland has not even claimed that such was the primary connotation of the terms. Even in Philo, we must distinguish between Abraham as a type of the proselyte and Abraham as a stranger in the land. These are two distinct conceptualizations of Abraham, even if they are analogous.

Part 3
In the final part of the chapter, Seland suggests that several passages in 1 Peter "should be read against the background of Diaspora-Jewish descriptions of proselytes" (61). In itself, this thesis is fair enough. For example, the audience has been "called out of darkness into astonishing light" (2:9). Certainly this is proselyte language. Indeed, it seems likely enough that the audience should be seen as "converts" as "proselytes" to Christian Judaism (e.g., 4:3).

However, Seland is never able to connect the dots between this general truth and the author's use of the terms παροικος and παρεπιδημος in 2:11. The remainder of the chapter plausibly confirms that the audience have converted, that they are ostracized from their former kinsmen in the way proselytes are (71). Their new identity involves a new, fictive kinship with an emphasis on brotherly love (74-77).

But he never closes the deal on the connection between this broader sense of the audience as converts to Christian Judaism and the specific meaning of 2:11. The most likely background of the expression παροικος και παρεπιδημος is Psalm 39:12 (LXX 38:12). The Septuagintal context gives us no reason to connect this comment to proselytism, and even Seland's Philonic reader would likely have allegorized the verse in relation to our soul's sojourn in the body.

One more entry...

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