Saturday, May 06, 2017

Review 2: Sacrifice as Metaphor in Paul

Reading Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast today. My thoughts on the Introduction are here.

1. Chapter 1 is entitled, "Sacrifice as Metaphor in Pauline Rhetoric." In this chapter she reviews some of the main theories of metaphor from the ancients to today while illustrating them in light of Paul's use of sacrificial metaphor. [1] Then she briefly engages how such metaphors might interact with the rhetorical nature of Paul's writings.

One observation at this point of her book is that these chapters are short and sweet. One wonders if she was asked to truncate longer dissertation chapters, whether she is only warming up, or whether this is her writing style. It of course makes for excellent reading. One gets the point. One gets a good overview of the subject. And there are plenty of references for further study. Frankly, it's my kind of book.

2. This chapter reveals one of her main goals in writing this book. "It is my hope that this study may recover some of the shock and tension of the original use of sacrificial metaphors in Paul's letters" (28). We have become so accustomed to the doctrinalization of sacrifice as a metaphor that we forget that this image once was fresh and unheard of. At first, Jesus was cruelly crucified by the Romans in a bloody act of capital punishment. Then someone made an "imaginative leap" (15), and his death became like an animal sacrifice.

In history, the practice of sacrifice came first. This was a familiar category. Then at some point in time, it became a metaphor "to explain the not-yet-understood implications of Jesus' life and death for the Christian moral life" (13). "The metaphor of sacrifice is one way among others... to unpack the implications of the cross of Christ" (14). One of Patterson's goals is "to catch Paul in the act of working out the complex of meanings that are born when one begins to use sacrifice as a metaphor in Christian thinking, and to allow the specific concerns of 1 Corinthians and Philippians to surface through a study of their particular range of uses of sacrificial metaphors" (16).

3. Her review of the history of metaphor takes us first to Plato and Aristotle, then to Paul Ricoeur and some twentieth century thinkers, then finally to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's cognitive theory of metaphor, Metaphors We Live By. Aristotle gives us a very limited sense of metaphor, but is still helpful in showing us that metaphors see similarity between things that are at least different on the surface. Patterson's main interest in Paul Ricoeur's work is the way he shows that metaphors can reach far beyond a comparison between two words such that they can pull in sentences, paragraphs, even whole works. She aims to see Paul's metaphors in 1 Corinthians and Philippians as having such a reach. [2]

Clearly Lakoff and Johnson have been the key influencers on her thinking. She identifies four characteristics of metaphor that she draws from their work. First, metaphors usually have a basis in human physicality. For example, it is common for human beings to relate "up" to good and "down" to bad. One of the shocking aspects of Paul's thinking is that he tries to make down to be up and up to be down. Crucifixion in the ancient world was bad, but the earliest Christians made it good.

A second aspect of metaphors is their "capacity not only to reveal but hide" (23). When the cross becomes a sacrificial metaphor, the Romans are disempowered as its agents and are sidelined by God, who becomes the primary actor. Metaphors also bring with them "entailments." Far more than one word compared to another, a metaphor can bring with it a whole host of potential resonances.

Finally, metaphors have a predictive capacity. "In a sense, a lively metaphor is out in front of one's ability to conceive of a thing" (27). Nice! "New metaphors, or new uses of existing metaphors, not only describe a state of affairs that had not been described before, but they are actually capable of creating new realities by inspiring a new set of behaviors congruent with the metaphor" (29). [3]

4. In the final section of this chapter, she connects Paul's use of sacrificial metaphors to the rhetoric of 1 Corinthians and Philippians. "In the letters of Paul, sacrificial metaphors are used primarily as high-stakes tools of persuasion" (30). After all, sacrifice was a central institution of the ancient world. One of her main claims in this section is that sacrifice is not an idea in the mind of Paul but a metaphor that drew its true life from the community for which it is trying to make sense of Christian living. Sacrifice is not a metaphor Paul is downloading to Corinth. It is a shared image from which Paul is trying to create a shared understanding.

[1] She references a study on 1 Peter that I did not know but that she has mentioned more than once as exemplary in its review of the history of how metaphor has been understood over time. Something to look into next pay day: Bonnie Howe, Because You Bear This Name: Conceptual Metaphor and the Moral Meaning of 1 Peter.

[2] Again, I am waiting to see this argument. I absolutely believe a metaphor can permeate a work--I have more or less argued this of Hebrews.

[3] There is a brief acknowledgement that Lakoff does not like the idea of a "dead" metaphor because it is ambiguous. Metaphors can die in very distinct ways.

No comments: