Sunday, May 07, 2017

Review 4: The Meaning of Sacrifice

The reading of Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast continues. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 3 is titled, "Sacrifice as an Object of Study." This chapter reviews scholarship on sacrifice in the modern era. The key take-aways from the chapter are, first of all, a distinction between sacrifices as practiced by the ordinary person and sacrifices as competing "literate cultic specialists" vied to win others over to their particular emphasis in interpreting sacrifice. Paul is one such person vying for his interpretation.

The chief voices in his way of analyzing ancient sacrifice are Stanley Stowers and Daniel Ullucci. As for the ordinary person taking part in sacrifice, both Stowers and Ullucci see the practice as grounded in basic human practices of reciprocity. The precise nature of that reciprocity could vary from context to context.

Then religious professionals competed with one another on what deeper significance sacrifice might have. What they were not arguing about, Patterson suggests, is whether to sacrifice or not. These literate religious specialists tended either toward the conservation of traditions or innovative reinterpretation. "Christianity," she says, "had its beginnings in an intellectual reexamination and reinterpretation within Judaism, as an outcome of criticism of the collusion of first-century Jewish leadership with Rome. The letters of Paul are an artifact of this 'entrepreneurial' intellectual reassessment" (75).

2. As a potential critique, she has repeatedly claimed that Paul did not see Christ's metaphorical sacrifice as entailing an end to sacrifice. It seems clear to me that this claim fits well with her repeated sense that using sacrifice as a metaphor did not imply the rejection of the practice of sacrifice. However, although I agree with her, she has offered very little in terms of actual argument to this end so far.

We catch our first glimpse in footnote 56 on page 79. "In the case of Paul, I am assuming that if it still made sense to portray Paul as participating in the Jerusalem cult by the time Acts was composed, then he most likely did continue to participate in sacrifices when he was in Jerusalem." I agree, but this bare footnote so far seems her only actual argument to that end.

3. By siding with Stowers and Ullucci, Patterson rejects the quest for a single essential meaning for sacrifice. She sides with Bruce Chilton in concluding that "there is no global explanation for the whole phenomenon" (73). By contrast, the quest for an essential meaning is reflected in the various scholars she analyzes in the first part of the chapter, along with the central idea each suggests: Edward Burnett Tylor (gift-giving), Robertson Smith (totemism), Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss (proxy for death of offerer), Mary Douglas (ordering the world), René Girard (mimetic desire for violence), Nancy Jay (reinforcing patriarchy), William Beers (male identity formation), and Marcel Detienne (cuisine to enforce political power).

She also rejects all evolutionary schema that create hierarchies of more or less advanced understandings (e.g., Tylor) or more or less spiritualized understandings (e.g., Stephen Finlan). A given text may manifest multiple "levels" at the same time (78). Nevertheless, she believes that the varied suggestions of all these scholars may give the interpreter of someone like Paul "an ear for some of the entailments of sacrifice that might otherwise be hard for a nonsacrificer to discern" (80). "When sacrifice is used as a metaphor, these are some of the entailments that will either be heightened or masked in the use of the metaphor."

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