As a school exercise I sat down today, armed with my Liddell and Scott, a few choice reference books, my Nestle-Aland, and an open mind to see if working my way through Galatians 4, now the topic of some discussion with mythtics, would solve any problems for me.
Is Galatians 4.4 an interpolation, the work of “a falsified Paul,” as hard-core mythtics like to allege? Does the verse not fit integrally and tonally into the whole of the chapter? Does not Paul’s emphasis on legitimacy and inheritance reflect (a) his own anxiety over his apostolic legitimacy and (b) his need to show that, as he is a legitimate preacher of the legitimate (or only) gospel, the Galatians themselves have nothing to fear about their “acceptance” (adoption) as Christians on the road to salvation?
The chapter is much harder to crack than I had remembered from Harvard days: it is full of periphrasis, half-thoughts, odd constructions and the sort of unpolished associations that for Paul amount to an argument. Many of these difficulties are smoothed over in modern translations, and have been even before “dynamic” translation became the preferred style of translators. I have not been led into temptation but have eschewed all efforts to make Paul say what I want him to have said, which he often doesn’t.
Every translation as Voltaire said is “like a woman: the good ones are never beautiful and the beautiful ones are never good.” There must be a nonsexist variant of that quote but I don’t know it. In our time, this has meant that sexy, dynamic translations are often the bastard offspring of the translator’s consciousness, and the literal or “neutral” ones would only make sense 2000 years prior to their translating–if ever. When there is any doubt about a word, I have given the Greek parenthetically. But in essence I think it is all here. In the final analysis we translate because we are trying to understand, not because we have understood something perfectly and just want to share it. It seems to me that one of the more banal aspects of modern mythicism is its support of certain axioms that constitute its conceptual edifice: Galatians 4.4,5 is one prop in this house, others being the status of James, the “silence” of Paul (and the reputed lack of any developed Jesus-tradition prior to him), the (perfectly explicable) weakness of “external evidence” , and the liberal use of charges of interpolation, anachronicity, and the belief that analogy–whether to infrabiblical or classical sources–can only be interpreted as plagiarism or contrivance in the service of the myth. Whatever else can be said for or against mythicism, its approach to evidence can only be compared to a traveler’s decision to take to the rocky dead end next to the clear path that leads to the village because it makes more sense of the journey. –Is this because John the Baptist was a myth too?
The result of this little exercise is unexciting for the most part, except that having done it I am more convinced than ever that the omission of 4.4,5 would constitute a lacuna fatal to Paul’s argument about legitimacy. I continue to think that this chapter reflects Paul’s anxiety over the biological legitimacy of Jesus, whose “type” is Issac in the allegory. While this insistence is framed as theology rather than biography (since Paul doesn’t write biography–something mythtics consistently ignore as part of their agenda), it is clear that Paul regards Jesus as legitimate in the same way that Isaac (4.28) is a legitimate heir capable of imparting the rights of inheritance–sonship. Ishmael (who is not named in the allegory) is his opposite, the son of a slave, born in lust (4.23). The slave-woman who “satisfies” Abraham’s physical needs is named, and then associated with Sinai and the “old” covenant; the mother of Jesus is merely “a woman.”
Does Paul’s insistence on an historically legitimate Jesus prove the existence of an historical Jesus? That is not the claim that is being made–or defeated here: the claim that is defeated is that Paul had no interest in, or did not “know” anything about an historical Jesus. Shift the topic as they try, mythtics are the group who have said repeatedly that Paul’s silence can be interpreted as his being unaware of any historical tradition concerning Jesus, a claim they then need to extend to the more extravagant notion that the “apostolic community” was simply an alternative Jewish myth-making factory.
Occasionally, even more absurd claims are made, usually because their approach to evidence involves the mythicists in such a tangle that they end up fighting against their own conclusions and self-contradictions. It is self-evidently true that no “testimony”–let alone an allusion, as here–serves as sufficient proof of an event if it is presupposed that that person (a) is lying (b) did not exist or (c) has good reason to concoct a story. As I have said in my contribution to the Jesus Process however, warrants for skepticism rather than gratuitous suspicion and ham-fisted guesswork need to be applied to the sources we have. Since the time of the histrionic Drews, with only a few exceptions, mythicism has earned its ornery reputation because of the emotionalism with which its proponents have approached the sources.
Translation since the time of Lorenzo da Valla has been a good way of sniffing out fraud, and quite bluntly–I find none here. The failure of mythicism to convince scholars that it is a solution to the “question” of Jesus rests on its inability to satisfy the demand for an alternative theory of Christian beginnings based on the best interpretation of the best evidence we have. That was the challenge that Case handed down in the early twentieth century, and mythicisim has not budged beyond that point, except to deny that it has not budged.
As before, I am confident that this wayward, spasmodic, self-interested voice and searching, rough-edged vocabulary is the voice of the real Paul, (convincingly) irreproducible by his studied imitators.
Lacking motivation for Paul’s creation of Jesus or the church’s concoction of Paul and the various paranoid conspiracy theories that are currently being put around to defend these notions, it will finally come down to sane interpretations of what history has left to us. It has left us this:
[And if you are Christ’s, then Abraham’s according to the promise (3.29) ] ...
mean, As long as the heir is a child, he is no better than a slave–even if he is lord of the manor; for he is subject to guardians and trustees until the time (προθεσμίας) set by the father. So also with us: when we were children we were held in bondage to what is base in the world. But when the right time had come, God sent forth his son, having been born (γενόμενον) of a woman, having been born under the law to ransom the ones under the law so that they might receive sonship. And, as you are sons, God sent forth his son’s spirit into our hearts crying Abba, Father. So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and as a son, an heir (κληρονόμος). But when you did not truly know God you were indentured to those which are not gods by nature; so now having come to know God—or rather being known by God (γνωσθέντες)—how can you turn back again to these weak and base things (στοιχεῖα), desiring to be slaves to them once more? You heed days, months, seasons, years: I am afraid for you because I may have toiled for you for nothing (εἰκῇ). Brothers I implore you, be as I am, as I am of you: you did me no harm. It was I in my human weakness (ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς) who preached the news to you first. And my appearance in the flesh you did not hate or reject (ἐξεπτύσατε), but you received me as a messenger of God—of Jesus Christ. O, what has happened to your grace? For I testify that it had been better [γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν] had you pricked your eyes out and handed them to me. For what? that I have become an enemy for telling you the truth? Their [Paul refers to his opponents, cf 3.1f.] desire for you is no good: they want to shut you out, and be desirous [only] of them [ ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε]. For [i.e., if there is a] a good reason of course it is good to be made over [δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι]—not only when I’m with you. My little children, [for whom] I will not rest until Christ is formed [μορφωθῇ ] in you! I so wanted to be with you now, to change my tone [φώνην], because I have doubts about you. Tell me then: you lot wanting to be under the law—do you hear the law? For it was written that Abraham had two sons, one of a slave [παιδίσκης] one by a free-woman [ἐλεύθερας]. But the son of the slave was born [γεγέννηται] according to the flesh, the son of the freewoman by a promise. Now this is an allegory [ἅτινα ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα]; these women are two laws. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery: that is, Hagar. Yet Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and [she] corresponds to what is Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jeruslaem above us is the free-woman—and she is our mother, as it is written,
Rejoice unbearing, barren one
The ones not in birth pangs: break forth in shouting!
Because the children of the desert [τέκνα τῆς ἐρήμου = the desolate one]
Exceed the children of the one who is married [Isa 54.1]
Now we, brothers, are like Isaac, children of the promise. But just as formerly the one having come about [γεννηθεὶς] according to the flesh harassed the one having been fathered according to the spirit, even so now. But what does scripture say? Drive out the slave and her son!, for the son of the slave will not inherit [what belongs to] the son of the free woman. So brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.