Monday, May 08, 2017

Review 5: Sacrificial Giving in Philippians

Now we get to Philippians in my reading of Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 4 is titled, "Philippians: Sacrificial Giving." In this chapter we finally get to the direct application of the dynamics that have been unfolded thus far in the book to the book of Philippians.

The chapter begins with a very brief run through the rhetorical structure of Philippians with a view to possible sacrificial metaphors. Patterson's claim is that these sacrificial metaphors are more than "rhetorical flourishes" but are "a tool of active thought" (113). She wishes to show that "the shelamim sacrifices (sacrifices of thanksgiving) constitute a pattern of offering that Paul applies metaphorically and imaginatively as a guide for the actions of the Philippians" (86).

The core thank-offering metaphors occur in 2:17 and 4:12. Yet because Philippians was meant to be read over and over, this metaphor would have developed a persuasive power in rereading (83) as the entailments resonated throughout the whole. As examples, there is the language of holiness in 1:1 and the image of the audience as holy and blameless (1:10; 2:15).

More controversially, she would extend the entailments of this metaphor to the Christ Hymn of 2:6-11 and to Paul's thoughts on his possible death in 1:20-26. All these images are meant to suggest a model of living to the Philippians. "The shelamim sacrifices (sacrifices of thanksgiving) constitute a pattern of offering that Paul applies metaphorically and imaginatively as a guide for the actions of the Philippians" (86).

2. The Christ hymn is a linchpin in Patterson's argument. She aims to show that there is a pattern of self-offering in the hymn that may be described as sacrificial (90). Christ empties himself, which is similar to the pouring out of the servant in Isaiah 53:12. Ralph Martin has critiqued this idea, claiming that the hymn would surely have been more explicit about the sin-bearing nature of Christ's death if the author had Isaiah 53 in mind. Her response is that the sacrifice in view is not a sin-offering but a thank-offering.

Nevertheless, aspects to her argument in this section seem confused. Does not Isaiah 53 have the bearing of sin in view, not a more general thank-offering? She is arguing that the hymn is sacrificial in part because it may have Isaiah 53 in its background and yet she denies that the kind of sacrifice evoked by Isaiah 53 is in view. In one paragraph she seems to suggest that the whole burnt offering has also impacted Paul's imagery of the thank-offering (87-88). Most puzzling is a moment when she seems to apply the modern metaphorical sense of personal sacrifice to the Christ hymn as an argument in favor of a sacrificial undertone (89).

3. In the latter part of Philippians 2, she suggests that a passage from Numbers 28 stands in the backdrop. This passage in Numbers takes place as Israel is about to take the land of Canaan and the Greek of this passage has common language with Philippians like "sacrifice," "aroma of sweetness," "pour a drink offering," and "blameless." She thus suggests that "The effect of this scattering of sacrificial references is to link the actions of Paul and the Philippians with the ancient record of God's direction of the Israelites on their coming into the land, even as the Philippians are called to see the place where they now live as the ground upon which they will enact their heavenly citizenship" (93).

Suffice it to say, this connection seems somewhat of an over-read of the evidence. The constellation of similar terms would go together in any context and, if Paul had Numbers in view, he surely did not make the connection very obvious. We might say the same of any sacrificial connotation in the Christ Hymn. On the one hand, she acknowledges that the cross in the hymn is not mentioned in relation to atonement (89-91). Yet she seems far from being able to demonstrate that Paul has anything along the lines of a thank-offering in view.

4. She also discusses the possibility that Philippians is a letter of friendship and how ancient friendship included gift-giving. Since "gift-exchange between heaven and earth is one of the fundamental patterns of sacrifice," she sees this aspect of Philippians as part of the patterns of sacrifice that permeate the letter. She also tries to place the metaphors of sacrifice in Philippians into an apocalyptic framework. One of the more interesting comments in this section is when she notes that the imagery of 4:18 "almost seems to describe the ascent of the smoke of the sacrifices" (106).

Finally, she sees the metaphor of thank-offering as a way to bind joy with suffering. "Rejoicing is the natural accompaniment to a sacrifice of thanksgiving" (110), even though a death is involved. "A dedicatory sacrifice... is a complex event that suggests a whole series of entailments, as it brings together a community's understandings of holiness, friendship, morality, reciprocal gift-giving, the relationship between suffering and joy, and commerce between heaven and earth" (115).

5. I personally found this chapter to be more scattered and less persuasive than the others. To what extent does the metaphor of a thank-offering dominate the rhetoric and thought of Philippians? It is clearly present in 2:17 and 4:12. Could Paul have had it in mind when he spoke of the possibility of his own death? It is possible but the evidence is not definitive, even less so when it comes to the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2. We can hardly find evidence for it in the mention of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

There is a good deal that is suggestive in this chapter, Patterson has a way of throwing out possibilities that the reader might think she will develop later but that she never seem to. We are thus left with possible readings of Philippians for which we seem to lack sufficient evidence to embrace.

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