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Author: Philip Esler

Abstract

The book of Judith bristles with issues of power, gender and ethnic identity. In this article the text is analysed using recent anthropolgical perspectives relating to the 'production of history' and an 'ethnography of the past'. It is argued that the text presents a ludic, even carnivalesque reworking of key themes in Israelite history. Judith equals or surpasses the achievements of great heroes in her people's past, such as David or Judas Maccabaeus, in a manner unknown to Graeco-Roman or Israelite traditions. All this is achieved through the agency of a decidedly liminal character in the form of a beautiful and wealthy Israelite widow, the full impact of whose achievements can only be assessed in the context of the honour-obsessed Mediterranean culture within which she functions. Finally, it is suggested that the text succeeds in re-imagining and reinventing Israelite identity. By regendering central themes of Israelite history, the text re-engenders Israel.

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Philip Esler

Abstract

This article applies notions of ethnic identity deriving from the work of Fredrik Barth to Ezra-Nehemiah that highlight the processes of boundary formation and maintenance. In particular, it focuses on one of the common indicia of ethnic boundaries, a shared history, here in the form of a 'narrative of ethnic identity' as explained by Stephen Cornell. Such a narrative is a story with a subject (the ethnic group in question), with action, normally in the past, and a value attached to it which bears upon the group's sense of its own worth. It covers the selection, plotting and interpretation of events. The post-exilic return of the Israelites to the land beginning under Cyrus, the erection of the Temple and the re-construction of the walls of Jerusalem described in Ezra-Nehemiah are usefully illuminated and explained when set within such a perspective. A central element of the Barthian understanding of ethnic boundaries, that they are patterns of prescription and proscription, is graphically illustrated in the account of the newly re-installed gates of the city being closed during the sabbath to keep out non-Israelite traders. A model focusing on the creation of a narrative of ethnic identity sheds considerable light on the re-invention of Israelite identity that is arguably the dominant theme in Ezra-Nehemiah.

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Philip Esler

Abstract

This article explores the Parable of the Good Samaritan in its immediate context (Luke 10:25-37), a central New Testament passage, both to assess its meaning for Luke's audience and also to suggest its pertinence to contemporary interest in reducing intergroup tension and conflict, especially between ethnic groups. The article first discusses social identity theory, which was developed by Henri Tajfel et al. and which deals with how groups provide their members a valued sense of identity through (often violent) differentiation from other groups. After next describing the violent history of the intergroup relationship between Judeans and Samaritans, as reflected in New Testament passages such as Luke 9:51-55, the article then presents an analysis of Luke 10:15-37 aimed at determining how Jesus uses the parable to subvert the connection between Judean group identity and the Mosaic law and to propose a new approach to moral behaviour. These exegetical results are then analysed in the light of three approaches to reducing intergroup conflict (crossed categorization, recategorization and decategorization) and the latter is found to be most analogous to the approach taken by the Lucan Jesus. The conclusion suggests the relevance of the parable to contemporary efforts to eliminate intergroup conflict.

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Philip F. Esler

Abstract

Building on earlier research by the author indicating that the situation which Paul had previously encountered in Antioch was closely related to that facing him in Galatia, in that both involved demands by Jewish Christians that Gentile members of the congregations be circumcised to solve the problem caused by mixed eucharistic table-fellowship, this article develops one aspect of this position by arguing that Peter was actively advocating the circumcision of the Antiochean Gentiles and that this involved a direct breach of the agreement previously reached in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10). It is suggested that much contemporary opposition to this possibility rests upon the anachronistic imposition of modern notions of fair play upon ancient Mediterranean social relations. To avoid this outcome, the author employs a model of social interaction based on the agonistic pattern of challenge and response within the framework of the honour/shame culture as developed recently within the field of Mediterranean anthropology. The model is used to pose a set of new and socially realistic questions to the text. The central issues which emerge in a fresh light using this methodology include: (a) the impact of bringing the uncircumcised Titus into Jerusalem as a provocative challenge to those advocating circumcision of Gentile members of the congregations; (b) the severe shame occasioned to those in Jerusalem who had actively but unsuccessfully sought the circumcision of Titus; (c) an interpretation of the meaning of the agreement in Gal. 2:9 as the declaration of peace after a period of hostility, a peace which consisted of an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of mixed Jewish-Gentile table-fellowship in Paul's communities; (d) pressure motivated by the desire for revenge by those shamed in Jerusalem with respect to Titus as explaining the subsequent change of attitude of James (and Peter); and (e) the meaning of 'Ioin Gal. 2:14 as "to become Jews (through circumcision)," for which there is shown to be ancient support in the commentary of Ambrosiaster.

In: Biblical Interpretation
In: Explaining Christian Origins and Early Judaism