Oct 17, 2018



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Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading With the Eyes of the Vanquished
Fortress Press
Amazon Reviews
Brigitte Kahl brings to this insightful reading of the Galatians a deep knowledge of the classical world and a keen eye, and ear, for the themes of Roman imperial ideology. Ranging over the history of Roman interactions with the Gallic/Galatian peoples, perceptions of Galatian savagery, and representations of defeated Gauls/Galatians, Kahl gives particular attention to the symbol of the Great Altar of Pergamon and its codes of cultural conflict. She shows that themes of imperial propaganda--order v. lawlessness, civilization vs. barbarity, harmony vs. anarchy--echo in Paul's letter and highlight the deep issues at stake in the Galatian crisis. Paul's struggle is motivated not by Jewish antagonists but by Galatian anxiety about their identity status on a landscape where withdrawal from the civic celebrations of Rome's glory was held in the gravest suspicion. Galatians re-imagined interprets the letter as an exhortation to stand with the powerless, yet not vanquished, rather than with the imperial worldview of the imperial conqueror, who is not lord supreme. The core of the Galatian controversy is that circumcision was less a body-marker of Jew or gentile, and more a signifier of political compliance or non-compliance with Roman civic obligations as proselytes sought Jewish identity to escape the demands of the imperial cult. The circumcision solution, according to Paul, who claims to be the voice of "proper" Judaism and law observance, is less an expression of faithful, theologically motivated Jewish Torah-obedience than of political realism. Hence, Paul presents foolish Galatians with another option, inclusion without circumcision, which fits into his fundamentally Jewish apocalyptic framework expecting an end-time pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem (Isa 2:2-3; Zeph 3:9). Uncircumcised messianic Galatians are no longer enslaved to those who by nature are not gods (Gal 4:8), but have become known by God and one with Israel, included as sons of Abraham without the need for circumcision, representing the eschatological movement of the nations turning to God, the beginning of a new creation triggered by the resurrection of God's crucified Son. Only if they keep their foreskins are they truly "nations." Only if they worship God alone, uncircumcised as they are, do they testify to the new creation that has started to transform the world. Their circumcision would not be a return to Jewish orthodoxy (for they have never been Jews) but, on the contrary, a concession to imperial idolatry, that compromises with a world ordered in the image of Caesar. Instead, the existence of uncircumcised Gentiles who stand up and refuse idolatry reconstructs the ancient portrayal of the "lawless Galatian" as justified through the grace of the nonimperial God of Abraham and Sarah. Thus the law Paul confronts is not Jewish law as such, but Jewish law in enforced servitude to Roman law.

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