Saturday, September 26, 2009

McCabe on Phoebe

Over at the SBL forum, Elizabeth A. McCabe posts a paper entitled "A Reexamination of Phoebe as a “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”: Exposing the Inaccuracies of English Translations"
This is not the strongest argument about Phoebe I have ever seen. On her role as letter carrier of Romans she writes:

The alternate definition for diakonos, namely an “intermediary” or “courier,” is also appropriate here. Diakonos in this regard means “one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction.”[3] In terms of Phoebe, this distinction would classify her as the letter carrier to the book of Romans. In light of the fact that many letters did not reach their designated locations in antiquity, the appointment of a woman as the carrier of the book of Romans is noteworthy, particularly since Romans is arguably the most significant book in the New Testament.

Note 3 is: [3] “diakonos,” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago, 2000), 230.

There are several problems here. First, she has already argued that diakonos is some kind of role associated with the church at Cenchrea (fair enough); but you can't then piggy-back an additional meaning based on a further possibility found in the lexicon. Secondly, precisely because she was 'deacon of the church of Cenchrea', this was not a word that evokes the idea of mediation or letter carrying (since the letter does not come from Cenchrea!). Thirdly it is not a "fact" that many letters did not reach their destination in antiquity (although as a matter of "fact" we don't actually know if Phoebe succeeded in delivering this one to Rome). Fourthly, I do think the use of a female letter carrier is significant, but not because of a rather arbitrary and arguable view of the significance of Romans (this is a later projection).

So, I know it is meant to be 'be nice to women bloggers month', but this paragraph is unfortunately weak.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here is my handout from today's presentation:

‘“Witnesses between you and us”:

The Role of the Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement’

Peter M. Head

Second British National Patristic Conference

Cambridge Sept 2009

1. Introduction

- broader project on epistolary communication and the role of letter-carriers in Greco-Roman antiquity and early Christianity

- letter-carriers important for security, confidence in delivery, personal contact

- named letter-carriers often have further role in communication

2. 1 Clement unusually explicit about role of letter-carriers

- closing summary (62-63)

- purpose of letter (63.2) co-ordinated with purpose of emissaries (63.3)

- ‘peace and concord’ (63.2; 65.1)

- the relationship between 63.3-4 and 65.1: the same people

a) linked by task (restoration of ‘peace and concord’)

b) linked by commission (sent from Rome)

c) linked by urgency

- no specificity about ‘carrying’ the letter (not unusual)

- not paralleled in other deliberative epistles appealing for concord

3. The nature and role of the emissaries/letter-carriers

- faithful: Noah (9.4); Abraham (10.1); Moses (17.5; 43.1); this is a characteristic which the recipients ought to display (48.5; 62.3)

- soberminded: a quality which the Corinthians are depicted as having once had but lost (1.2). Schism is described as a kind of madness/insanity (1.1; 21.5; 46.7)

- old: schism is attributed to younger men (so 3.3: the young were stirred up against the old/elders, cf. also 47.6)

- blameless: used three times in 1 Clement 44 to describe the behaviour of those who had been removed from ministry in the schism (44.3, 4, 6).

- witnesseses [Perhaps cf. Deut 19.15, but no verbal allusion at all]

- urgency: 63.4; and then is repeated three times in 65.4

- named (Greek, imperial freedmen of Claudius)

4. Concluding Reflections

- emissaries/letter-carriers essential to communication by letter and to successful reception of the epistle (from Roman perspective)

- emissaries/letter-carriers chosen carefully to reflect nature/purpose of communication and absolutely fundamental to that communication

- emissaries/letter-carriers interpret, reinforce, and even personally embody the appeal of the written letter to the recipients

- written letter did have significant Wirkungsgeschichte

- some parallels with Pauline practice (cf. generally 5, 47): sending language, pistos in recommendations, anticipated return; but not the only/major influence (Roman setting, embassies to cities, appeals for concord etc.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

‘Witnesses between you and us’: the role of the letter-carriers in 1 Clement

My paper at the Second National Patristic Conference is scheduled for next Thursday (10th Sept) at 12:20. Must get it tidied up and finished. (For normal techniques see here). Further details: SECOND NATIONAL PATRISTIC CONFERENCE