Thursday, November 21, 2013

Jachin and Boaz, James and John

UPDATE: now with translation. See how I deal with the problem!

So I'm working up Galatians for a bit more of a lay course, because I'm too deep in the minutiae of Romans and too far away from knowing how to perform it adequately myself. And that involves settling on a Greek text first, of course—which involves a fair bit of textual criticism. One must at least go through the major variants and make sure one agrees with them.

And, being me, one also checks what we think about manuscript families today, and checks manuscript images online where available. That last bit is a very nice addition from the last time I tried this! Sinaiticus has its own site, the British Library has Alexandrinus posted, and the CSNTM has many, many others. Which is great, because there's no way this merits a vacation!

So I come to Galatians 2:9, and the text reads Ιακωβος και Κηφας και Ιωαννης, "James and Cephas and John." And there are markers enclosing Ιακωβος και Κηφας, telling me I should look at the apparatus. And the apparatus is a mess. But the more I dig through it, the more I think, "What is Cephas doing in this passage?" Why are there three so-called "pillars"? Is three right? How many should there actually be?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sometimes, You Just Have to Do Everything Yourself

Aber wer thäte mir diesen Dienst! Aber wer hätte Zeit, auf solche Diener zu warten!—sie wachsen ersichtlich zu selten, sie sind zu allen Zeiten so unwahrscheinlich! Zuletzt muss man Alles selber thun, um selber Einiges zu wissen: das heisst, man hat viel zu thun!

"But who could perform this service for me? And who would have the time to wait for there to be such capable servants—who too seldom show themselves, and who are thus unlikely in the best of times! In the end, one must do everything oneself in order to know anything for oneself. And that means that one has much to do!"

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil §45

I don't want to engage in the pretension of saying that I'm "re-reading" McCormack's Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology—but I'm definitely paying more attention to it as a work in its own right this time, rather than using it as a means. And there's a lot to be learned from it. Including the reality that naming the second part of a two-part project in advance is a sure way to see that you never actually complete it!

But what grabs me most is what McCormack saw himself as having to do because of the field. He calls it a Gesamtdeutung, for which I don't have a totally satisfying English gloss. "Total (re)interpretation of the whole" might cover it. The field is stuck in a persistent misinterpretation, such that even the best original sourcework still assumes that this interpretation is correct. We refine it, we adjust it, but we never engage in the kind of wholesale correction that is really needed. But it can be done, and someone must.

And to do that, one finds oneself at sea, beyond sight of all land. Or, in the proper Nietzschean metaphor for this part of Beyond Good and Evil, a solitary individual confronted by the vast and primal reality of the forest. Paradigm work is easier. It would be preferable, as Barth knew in his own work in exegesis, to have reliable professionals who were reliable precisely for the purposes of one's own hunt. And that is never a reality. Even when one has students, one sends them out to become experts in their own hunts, and when they have become so expert, they will no longer do your work for you.

It's hard to genuinely collaborate. It's easier to do piecework for someone, inside a paradigm. It's easier to do everything oneself to create a paradigm, and farm out piecework after the fact. And it's much easier, when one is faced with the need to do everything over again, to do it in reaction against the existing paradigm.

It's no secret that I'm working on universalism in Barth—and I feel much the same necessity for gesamtdeutung in the face of this field and its assumptions. And I could certainly be following worse models, by far, than McCormack provides! But for me it has to be the dogmatic project, not the historical one. Were I to attempt the historical project, I would never complete the dogmatic one. Still, I suppose there's some consolation to be found in a career spent doing the dogmatic work. Perhaps it will work out the other way for me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Praising the Audience, Blaming the Outsiders (Romans 1:14-32)

Throws in Judo rely on the more aggressive opponent overextending themselves across a leverage point; all the judoka does is translate that leverage into a different kind of motion than the opponent intended. There are two general steps to this process, which are served by the footwork and body contact: first, move the leverage point in, and second, induce rotation.

I like this as an analogy for what Paul does to the Romans in chapter 1. I like it especially because, when done well, the basic hip throw in Judo looks like three steps: I put my arm around your back, I turn to face the same way you're going, and then I land you on the floor. It's a bit more complicated in standing demonstration, but when done to someone already in motion, this throw is quick, and it can be totally unexpected and disorienting—and if the grip is wide enough and the circumstances are good, only the ego needs to be bruised. Paul's use of the language of praise and blame, what we call "epideictic rhetoric," here looks exactly like the first two steps: make positive contact, and turn to face the same direction.

What the audience doesn't see is the hip motion and footwork that, in chapter 2, will see them looking up at Paul from the floor. What we don't usually see is that, by "agreeing" with them, Paul is luring the audience into overextending themselves across his hip to put themselves on the floor. Romans 1 encourages the audience to do something not-at-all unusual to them, for the sake of producing an outcome that is quite unexpected. Paul is using this rhetoric, praising the audience and blaming outsiders, to create a teachable moment that will let him demonstrate what they are doing wrong.