Friday, May 12, 2017

Review 6: Passover Imagery in 1 Corinthians

The final main chapter is on 1 Corinthians in Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 5 is titled, "1 Corinthians: The Community That Keeps the Feast." The previous chapter applied Patterson's understanding of sacrifice and metaphor to Philippians. This chapter does the same with 1 Corinthians.

Her aim in this chapter is to show that "metaphors relating to the Passover appear to bring together a number of Paul's counsels in 1 Corinthians, and to offer a set of associations to guide the community's ethical reflections in the future" (117). The chapter is largely set out by looking at the metaphors in 1 Corinthians section by section, following the rhetorical structure set out by Margaret Mitchell.

“Entailments of metaphors of the Passover (leaven, holiness, unity, freedom, wilderness, blood, covenant, remembrance) challenge the church at Corinth to become a community of belonging, to God and one another, by imaginatively placing themselves both within the exodus narrative and within the ongoing community of commemoration” (157). There is the essence of this chapter. Since I have a tendency to ask questions like, "What were the earliest layers of this book?" I tend to see the chapter on Philippians as very early, probably the inspiration for the book (I'm picturing this as originally being a dissertation). So the chapter on Philippians seems sloppier to me (sorry). By the time the chapter on 1 Corinthians was written, it feels like a bit greater sophistication might have developed. Mind you, this might all be in my mind. So she doesn't try to sweep all the metaphors of 1 Corinthians into a paschal pattern but recognizes a “layering” of metaphors.

Patterson finds sacrificial imagery and imagery relating to the Passover as far as chapter 13. As with Philippians, it is not clear to me whether the Passover plays as strong a role in the meaning of 1 Corinthians as Patterson sees. As far as the first four chapters, she takes the phrase logos tou theou in 1:18 as an expression of the “logic” of the cross rather than the “message about the cross.” Although she does not identify this logic with the later Passover metaphor, she believes it works in concert with it. Not sure I agree. For the time being, I'm sticking with the message of the cross.

Other images in the first main proof of the letter (1:18-4:21) similarly work in concert: the community as a building and the community as a temple. She sees an allusion to the scapegoat of Yom Kippur in 4:13. These two paragraphs were fascinating.

2. Certainly she is correct to see imagery relating to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in 1 Corinthians 5. She rightly notes that this sacrificial imagery is not principally about atonement. For example, the call to unity properly characterized those who kept the Passover feast. There was a preparation necessary to celebrate the Passover, so the Corinthians needed to prepare themselves properly for their ongoing life together. “The use of a metaphor of Passover, in a letter devoted to rebuilding true community among the congregation at Corinth, undergirds arguments against divisiveness by focusing on behavior within the community that Paul regards as corrupting” (135).

I don't know if I believe that the Passover metaphor lingered in Paul’s mind beyond 1 Corinthians 5. Patterson sees synergies with the purity and sanctification language of 1 Corinthians 6 and 7. She sees a synergy in the “higher slavery” to Christ in chapter 7. The “puffing up” of the Corinthians in chapter 8 is antithetical to the right kind of preparation for the feast. Just not really sure about this.

1 Corinthians 10 does evoke imagery of Israel just after the exodus. For Patterson, there is a consistency in this imagery, because “Paul continues to map the experiences of the Corinthian community onto those of the Israelites who were delivered from bondage in Egypt on the night of the first Passover sacrifice, wandered in the wilderness, and then kept the Passover immediately upon entry into the land” (145).

The Lord’s Supper was likely a Passover meal. She has helped me out with the historical Jesus here by pointing out that “The Passover is the only sacrifice that is set distinctly for nighttime” (150). Scholars like Hans Conzelmann and Richard Horsley have denied a connection to the Passover in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Of course she disagrees. I think she would say that the kind of sacrifice in view is not an atoning sacrifice but a covenant making and restoring sacrifice. Maybe I'm groggy but thought she could have been clearer here.

Concluding Chapter
3. In the conclusion of chapter 7, Patterson does not provide a thoroughgoing study of sacrificial metaphors in Romans, but she does suggest the kinds of conclusions such a study might bring. “The use of cultic metaphors in Romans is as contextually specific and rhetorically strategic as those of Philippians and 1 Corinthians” (161). She sees a number of “partial frequencies” or sacrificial resonances in Romans, with a wide variety of sacrifices in view: Yom Kippur, the Akedah, the firstfruits, the shelamim and more.

Although she does not develop the idea, she stakes her claim with those who emphasize that the Jewish sacrificial system “was about life, not death, and that the modern preoccupation with the death of the victim is misplaced” (165). Meanwhile, none of the metaphors of Romans in any way undermine the continued functioning of the Jerusalem Temple.

So I personally really liked this book. I learned a lot. She gave me a lot of good fuel for thought.

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