- Paul through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians by Kenneth E. Bailey
The aim of this commentary on 1 Corinthians is to integrate rhetorical analysis with observations about life in the Middle East, as well as information gleaned from translations of 1 Corinthians into Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew. Kenneth E. Bailey is one of the few scholars who regularly consult these versions when he works on exegesis, and within the guild he is unusual, given his experience of living and working in different parts of the Middle East for over forty years.
In the introduction, Bailey presents his methodology and some of his central ideas about 1 Corinthians. His rhetorical analysis focuses on comparisons between the letter and the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible (mostly Amos and Isaiah). He takes a minority position in arguing that 1 Corinthians 1:2 means that the letter was not only directed to the Corinthians but to the entire church, using various commentators from the past, such as Ambrosiaster and John Calvin, as support. He also thinks that 1 Corinthians has a clear, coherent, and precise macro structure and can be divided into five essays that both reflect a theological method internally as well as together as a collection. These essays and their dominant themes consist of 1 Corinthians 1:5–4:16 on the cross and Christian unity; 4:17–7:40 on men and women and the human family; 8:1–11:1 on food offered to idols; 11:2–14:40 on men and women in worship; and 15 on resurrection. The essays also form a chiasm, lending support to Bailey’s argument that there are three main ideas in the letter: cross and resurrection; men and women in the human family and in worship; and the role of Christians living among pagans. Bailey also explains that taking into consideration ancient and modern Middle Eastern sources on 1 Corinthians (translations and commentaries, including, for example, John Chrysostom’s commentary on the letter) can assist in penetrating Paul’s use of metaphor throughout the letter, but he relies a good deal on Amos in one text for discerning some of Paul’s imagery and themes.
A “prelude” then follows whereby Bailey describes what he calls the “prophetic homily rhetorical style” that he finds in texts such as Isaiah. Here, Bailey also defines some of the terminology that he has developed for his rhetorical analysis, such as “cameos,” “double-decker sandwich compositions,” and the “high jump format.” These are also helpfully summarized in one of the multiple appendices at the end of the book.
Each chapter subsequently centres on a small unit of 1 Corinthians, following the pattern of an outline, a brief discussion of the rhetoric, followed by commentary. The chapters are grouped according to the five major themes referred to above. The commentary is not detailed, but it always engages rhetorical structure, then sometimes addresses cultural concerns with reference to some of Bailey’s own experiences. The Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic versions of the text, although listed in another appendix, are not [End Page 155] systematically referred to, but when they are, it is usually for a translation issue such as how to understand “calling” in 1 Corinthians 7.
Bailey is to be commended certainly for his originality, and it was interesting to learn a little about some of the often ignored versions of 1 Corinthians. However, the lack of regard for much recent scholarship on 1 Corinthians and especially for the insightful work done on Paul and Greco-Roman rhetoric and culture, constitutes a deficiency in the overall academic rigour of the book. Paul wrote in Greek, and many have shown convincingly how he is as indebted to as many Greco-Roman concepts and literary patterns as he is to “Hebrew” ones. For example, it is now widely agreed that to some extent, Paul was very concerned about “self-control” and that he had certain ascetic tendencies comparable to those found...