“Severing the Joints and the Marrow”: The Double-Edged Sword of Comparison

in Religion and Theology
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Abstract

Edwin Hatch argued for the comparability of early Christian and Greco-Roman institutional forms. But his critics dismissed Hatch’s comparanda for being insufficiently precise, and thus no threat to the uniqueness of Christian forms. This paper explores comparison, the complexities of claiming comparability in specific cases, arguing that the process of identifying comparanda is political and strategic, used both as a tool and a weapon, and too often in the study of religion – as in the case of Hatch’s critics – comparison is wielded in the service of incomparability, a strategic move that can be called comparatio iniquitatis causa (comparison for the sake of difference).

“Severing the Joints and the Marrow”: The Double-Edged Sword of Comparison

in Religion and Theology

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References

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  • 1

    See Jonathan Z. Smith“In Comparison a Magic Dwells,” in Imagining Religion: From Babylon to JonestownChicago Studies in the History of Judaism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press1982) 21. While Smith cannot find “rules” for the carrying out of a comparison comparison like metaphor analogy similarity and taxonomy are what Robert E. Haskell would call “surface manifestations” of analogical reasoning “a neurological and evolutionary-based invariance function” see: “The Access Paradox in Analogical Reasoning and Transfer: Whither Invariance?” The Journal of Mind and Behavior 30.1–2 (2009) 35–36.

  • 5

    HamillEthno-Logic40–43.

  • 10

    Edwin HatchThe Organization of the Early Christian Churches: Eight Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford in 1880 (London and New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green and Co.1901) 17–19 29–30 86–87 114.

  • 11

    See James T. BurtchaellFrom Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1992) 76–94.

  • 14

    On the debate see: Charles GoreThe Church and the Ministry: A Review of the Rev. E. Hatch’s Bampton Lectures (2nd ed.; London: Rivingtons1882); Ernest George Hardy Christianity and the Roman Government: A Study in Imperial Administration Studies in Roman History (repr. of the 1st ed; London and New York: G. Allen & Unwin and Macmillan 1925); Norman F. Josaitis Edwin Hatch and Early Church Order Recherches et syntheses Section d’Histoire 3 (Gembloux: Éditions J. Duculot 1971); Burtchaell Synagogue to Church 76–81; John S. Kloppenborg “Edwin Hatch Churches and Collegia” in Bradley H. McLean ed. Origins and Method: Toward a New Understanding of Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Honour of John C. Hurd JSOTSup 86 (Sheffield England: JSOT Press 1993): 212–238.

  • 15

    See especially: Richard S. Ascough“Translocal Relationships among Voluntary Associations and Early Christianity,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 5.2 (1997): 223–241; as background also see: Idem Paul’s Macedonian Associations: The Social Context of Phillipians and 1 Thessalonians WUNT 2.161 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) 2003).

  • 18

    Jonathan Z. SmithDrudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1990).

  • 22

    Smith“A Magic Dwells” 22.

  • 23

    Jonathan Z. Smith“A Pearl of Great Price and a Cargo of Yams: A Study in Situational Incongruity,” in Imagining Religion: From Babylon to JonestownChicago Studies in the History of Judaism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press 1982): 90–101. Also note the similar conclusion based on an analysis (though not so explicitly comparative) of Siberian hunters in the same volume pp. 53–65.

  • 24

    James Constantine Hanges“Interpreting Glossolalia and the Comparison of Comparisons,” in Comparing Religions: Possibilities and Perils?Numen Book Series: Studies in the History of Religions 113 Thomas Athanasius Idinopulos Brian C. Wilson and James Constantine Hanges eds. (Leiden: Brill 2006): 181–218.

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