Saturday, May 06, 2017

Book Review 1: Keeping the Feast

It is truly a delight to be asked to read a good book. Today I hope to read Jane Lancaster Patterson's Keeping the Feast: Metaphors of Sacrifice in 1 Corinthians and Philippians. I need to finish it today, so I plan to post my notes chapter by chapter as I read today.

The introduction is already a delight. Perhaps it is no secret that I am not particularly impressed with the state of New Testament studies today. In my opinion, contemporary trends have yielded a field where the demand is for partisan scholarship. Ideological interpretation reigns supreme in both evangelical and secular contexts. The demand is not for solid historical interpretation and one looks long and hard for something that is truly insightful or paradigm-shifting.

The introduction to Patterson's book already has me salivating. First, she is going to engage Ricoeur, Lakoff, and Johnson. No flat, two-dimensional Aristotle will we find here.

The introduction to the book appropriately gives the reader an overall sense of what the book will explore in the pages that follow. The purpose of this book is to examine how Paul's use of sacrificial metaphors in 1 Corinthians and Philippians contributes to the meaning of those books. As such, the book will first explore the nature of metaphor. Then it will explore the way in which sacrifice could serve as a metaphor at the time of Paul. Finally, the book will apply these insights to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians and Philippians.

Patterson's thesis is that, in both cases, there is a "sustained use of a particular sacrificial complex as an imaginative guide for the community's ongoing ethical reflection" (11). In both cases, the key sacrificial metaphors are placed roughly at the center of each letter. [1] Key here is the recognition that Paul's sacrificial metaphors are not all the same. [2] There has often been a tendency in relation to sacrifice to "collapse the entire sacrificial system into atonement" (2), as well as to collapse Paul's sacrificial metaphors not only to Yom Kippur, but to a faulty understanding of Yom Kippur at that (7).

As we would expect, the introduction reviews some of the key literature of recent years. She makes it clear that she stands within the camp of those who (like me) do not think that Paul's sacrificial metaphors in themselves implied a replacement of the Temple cult by the Pauline churches. This is an anachronistic reading that interprets earlier language with the hindsight of the Temple's destruction and the impact of Hebrews on Christian understanding. Rather, sacrifice is a "tool" in Paul's thought rather than an "object" of his thought (8).

[1] If she means to suggest that this is intentional with the sense that these metaphors are the key to understanding each letter, I will need to be convinced.

[2] She agrees with Stephen Finlan that Paul's metaphors are often "mixed but not confused" (7).

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