Re: Acts 2:38 -- umwn

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 14:23:11 EDT

At 10:28 AM -0400 5/3/00, Mike Sangrey wrote:
>Mike Sangrey <> said:
>>> Isn't it interesting though, that it is in the practice of community
>>> that these cognitive environments are exposed?
>"Carl W. Conrad" said:
>> Precisely; in the community that Paul sometimes referred to as the
>> SWMA IHSOU CRISTOU (it's always struck me as a curious fact that a
>> tradition of private mysticism--the very thing that Paul seems in 1
>> Cor to be haranguing against--could have emerged out of the NT
>> literature), and also, in a somewhat (?!) derivative sense, on
>> B-Greek.
>Did it "emerge out of the NT literature"; or, did it emerge from the
>Hellenistic culture of the time? If I Cor. is battling against it, then
>it appears to me to have grown up from somewhere else. I tend to think
>the Hebraic culture was highly communal as a community of families and
>that Paul was bringing a message directed to the Greek and born from a
>Hebrew frame of reference, a Hebrew cognitive environment, if you will.
>I feel this is pushing the boundaries of B-Greek, but I would be
>interested in any feedback one has regarding any individualistic
>tendencies of 1st Century Hellenistic culture. IMO, it would help us in
>exegisis and translation to understand a little more fully the cognitive
>environment of the GNT writers.

(Yes, this DOES push the boundaries of B-Greek, but at least I don't think
it gets us into the sort of controversial matters entailing hermeneutics
and theological commitments.) One might like to imagine that it developed
out of the Greek individualist ethos, but I suspect the situation is
considerably more complex and that we ought to think (pace Jim West) that
Hellenistic Jewish, Hellenistic Roman, and Hellenistic Greek cultures
displayed far more elements of syncretism with one another than distinctive
and parochial elements each. One ought to guard carefully against
overgeneralizations here, but from what little bit I've read in Gershom
Scholem and some others, that sort of private mysticism is likely to have
emerged out of the interaction of Greek and Jewish "mindsets" and perhaps
nowhere more likely than in Alexandria, where, if anywhere, the Greek and
Jewish "mindsets" met and married each other. Where did Gnosticism (I'd
call it a sort of private personal mysticism) originate and when? I think
it's very difficult to separate out the provenance or derivation of the
strands that enter into such things. And as for individualism and Greek
culture, it has always fascinated me that Paul can use what must be
highly-competitive metaphors from Greek athletics to express
non-competitive ideas, notions such as running the good race. I don't doubt
that Paul himself wrote some of the most important texts out of which that
private mysticism arose, but as I've said, it seems to me that even where
he would appear (in translation, for instance) to be addressing individuals
about personal salvation, he addresses the community and uses the plural
forms of the verb, as for instance in Phil 2:12-13 META FOBOU KAI TROMOU
SWTHRIAN, where hEAUTWN means hUMWN AUTWN, and note also ENERGWN EN hUMIN.
I don't mean, either, to imply that personal relationship between
individuals were not important to him--indeed, they seem to be important
even eschatologically, as when he speaks of seeing PROSWPON PROS PROSWPON
and affirming, in 1 Cor 13, TOTE DE EPIGNWSOMAI KAQWS KAI EPEGNWSQHN, where
we cannot simply suppose that EPIGINWSKW refers to intellectual knowing,
since Paul speaks of himself as the object of that GNWSIS or EPIGNWSIS. So
yes, persons matter, and interpersonal relationships matter, WITHIN a
community, or so it seems to me. But it would probably be more profitable
to stick closer to individual NT Greek texts.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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