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The message of the cross as "body language" in Paul's corinthian polemics: an inversion of the Greco-roman social ethos

Shi, Wen Hau (2007) The message of the cross as "body language" in Paul's corinthian polemics: an inversion of the Greco-roman social ethos. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The Corinthian correspondence reveals that the apostle Paul was deeply engaged in polemics with his opponents and critics in Corinth, who questioned his modus operandi and challenged his apostolic authority. Paul's response, which was both ironical and paradoxical, was based on his own understanding of the cross of Christ, in which divine power was demonstrated through apparent human weakness. This thesis attempts to show that Paul's response, which involved many kinds of "body language", was nothing less than a drastic inversion of the social ethos of his time. Unlike his Corinthian critics who apparently followed the current Greco-Roman ethos, Paul was operating on a world view which was diametrically opposed to it. This thesis consists of three Parts. Part I is on crucifixion in antiquity, which was a most powerful "body language", compared with the ancient idea of "noble death" in both Greco-Roman and Maccabean traditions, according to which the crucifixion of Jesus could only be a most vivid and terrifying symbol of extreme human suffering, weakness, degradation and shame. Part II is devoted to the study of Greco-Roman rhetoric, with special emphasis on the orator’s delivery as "body language”. Paul’s intention to invert the current social ethos was again clear when he deliberately chose "to proclaim the gospel...not with eloquent wisdom" (1 Cor. 1.17), and that he came to Corinth "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling" (2.3). Part in is a study of the peristasis catalogue (or the list of tribulations), especially its positive use by philosophers and moral teachers in the Greco-Roman tradition, to demonstrate manly virtues such as courage and endurance. However, this was only one side of the coin. "The other side of the coin" showed that the peristasis catalogue, especially through the "body language" it contained, could also signify shame, humiliation, and human degradation rather than manly virtues. The thesis takes the view that it was this negative side that Paul had in mind when he provided lists of his own suffering. In the end, the crucifixion of Christ, Paul’s unconventional manner of proclamation and his view on peristasis, all combined to turn the current Greco-Roman social ethos up-side-down. And "body language" has provided the vital link between the three: crucifixion, rhetoric and peristasis.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:29

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