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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Strawbridge, Jennifer R.


The Pauline Effect. The Use of the Pauline Epistles by Early Christian Writers.


Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2015. VIII, 309 S. = Studies of the Bible and Its Reception, 5. Geb. EUR 99,95. ISBN 978-3-11-043770-6.


Marco Rizzi

Strawbridge’s book derives from her doctoral thesis, elaborated under the guidance of Christopher Rowland and Teresa Morgan. In 2014, having won the SBL – De Gruyter Prize for Biblical Studies and Reception History, the manuscript was published in the homonymous series.
The study focuses on the four most frequently quoted Pauline pericopes in pre-Nicaean Christian writers (including Eusebius of Caesarea): 1 Corinthians 2,6–16; Ephesians 6,10–17; 1 Corinthians 15,50–58; and finally, Colossians 1,15–20. The prominence of these quotations emerges from a data base built up by S., which collects information from notes and indexes of the corresponding volumes of the Patrologia graeca and Latina, Biblia Patristica and Biblindex, Sources Chrétiennes and electronic library as the TLG and CLCLT, to a total of 27051 references (an Appendix of nearly 80 pages is de-voted to illustrate this aspect of the work and to list the occurrences of the four pericopes, distinguishing between references, pos-sible references and also references not found, i. e. wrong items of the above-quoted indexes).
Methodologically, S. depends upon Frances Young’s (and her school’s) assumption that biblical exegesis aims to persuade and support the progress in the faith of Christian audience. In addition, S. follows the path opened by Raffaella Cribiore and Teresa Morgan, who have examined the references to major authors in Greek school-text papyri to individuate the ideological core of antique literate education. In this way, according to S., it becomes possible to combine quantitative and analytical evaluations about the use of Pauline texts by early Christian exegetes and, as a consequence, its impact on the Christian communities. In fact, in S.’s view all early Christian texts – including apologetical and polemical ones – are intended primarily and almost exclusively to set boundaries and strengthen self-identity (such an assumption is largely widespread in recent trends of scholarship, but it seems more an effect of our contemporary uncertainty than the result of a well-balanced evalu-ation of the ancient sources). In S.’s view, a central role is played by the category of »formation«, a concept wider than the sole idea of catechesis, normally used and investigated by scholars to retrace the ancient Christian praxis for introducing and instructing the faithful into Christian doctrines.
After an introductory chapter dealing with these methodological considerations, chapters 2 to 5 present the results of the research about the selected Pauline quotations: each chapter opens with a presentation of the pericope itself and of its context, based on the main outcomes of contemporary exegesis; it follows a short overview of the reception history of the text in general terms; the main body of the chapter is devoted to the illustration of the different uses of Paul’s words by ancient Christian writers; finally, a short conclusion summarizes the results of the enquiry, trying to generalize them according to the methodological assumptions reported above.
Chapter 4 can function as a good example of S.’s way of working. The core of 1 Corinthians 15,50–58 is contained in the first verse: »Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God«. S. outlines quickly the themes which characterized ancient debates about the pericope, and defines four different meanings of the couple »flesh and blood«, corresponding to the authors who have most widely discussed the whole pericope. Following Rowan Greer, S. maintains that the use of the Pauline expression made by ancient Christian writers does not concern the exegetical method, but instead the theological function of the interpretation. For the Valentinians, resurrection must be intended only according to a spiritual meaning, so that Paul’s statement has to be interpreted literally. On the contrary, Irenaeus affirms that flesh and blood cannot resuscitate if they follow the works and the desires of the flesh; flesh and blood, however, are essential elements of God’s creation and are saved through Christ (even if at p. 113 there is an incongruous though, clearly a misprint, as in the case of clavia in­stead of clavis or claves at p. 10 note 33). On his turn, Tertullian defends the material and bodily dimension of the resurrection, while Origen argues for a resurrection of a deeply transformed body.
The ethical reading of Paul’s text developed by Irenaeus and Tertullian gives rise to intense ethical exhortations not to follow the desires of the flesh, a feature lacking in Valentinians’ and Origen’s arguments. In the last paragraph, S. underlines the role of the hermeneutical debate in defining the identity of many Chris­tian groups and criticizes Markus Vinzent’s thesis, according to which the issue of the resurrection of the body occupies a central place in early Christian literature due to Marcion’s influence. S. can conclude that »the right interpretation of this Pauline passage and a right understanding of resurrection was not only about refuting op-ponents, but was a formational task, shaping the church and those within it« (133).
The final chapter offers a summary of the previous pages and reiterates some methodological issues raised in the introductory chapter. The four Pauline passages have been used by ancient authors (mainly Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Valentinus, Tertullian and Origen) to support and give authority to a wide range of theological and exegetical arguments and at the same time to put their own words under the patronage of the Apostle while de­veloping different ideas and assumptions. It is the case of Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation, Clement’s conception of the role of teaching in Christian life, the Valentinian disregard of the flesh, Tertullian’s views on resurrection, or of Origen’s understanding of biblical exegesis. All these ancient writers took up, adapted and reworked the four Pauline texts for their theological purposes: in this way, theology and scriptural interpretation result deeply intertwined to shape the identity of early Christians and their formation.
In the last note of the final chapter, S. informs about a spin-off from the project at the basis of the book: a digital data-base which would contain all the quotations from the Pauline writings that occur in ante-Nicene texts. It will be presented in a searchable, sortable, and accessible form to complement other research tools and enable wider access to and use of these texts, both Pauline and patristic (180 note 5).