- Transient Apostle: Paul, Travel, and the Rhetoric of Empire by Timothy Luckritz Marquis
Rhetorics of travel wander across millennia and media. Travel speaks to our inborn interest in the outside and in the other and, as a topos, it enables us to communicate in diverse ways and to divergent communities. Turning to the rhetorical power of travel invites reconsideration of the communicative interplay of governments and cultures, of movements and ideas. Timothy Luckritz Marquis's Transient Apostle: Paul, Travel, and the Rhetoric of Empire explores Paul's cultural transgressions through a study of travel in the context of empire; how Marquis asks, do rhetors such as Paul invent resistant social movements under imperial conditions? Bridging understandings of the margins, affect, and identity, Marquis calls renewed attention to the rhetorics of travel and empire that undergird our histories, our disciplines, and our selves. Transient Apostle shows us that travel, in times of empire old and new, is a topos with staying power.
Paul has been extensively studied—and leveraged—across the humanities. He is, according to John Durham Peters, "one of the great inkblots for nearly two millennia of opinions" (2005, 31). Among recent treatments, Paul's letters have been figured as inventive means of mass communication (see Simonson 2011, 29–55) and theorized as foundational messianic texts (see Agamben 2005). Transient Apostle extends Paul's interdisciplinary significance by locating his rhetoric along intertwined axes of travel and suffering. Marquis sets Paul into conversation with—and in juxtaposition to—a number of ancient traditions and figures, including prominent rhetoricians (Cicero), philosophers (Plato), politicians (Augustus) and theological leaders (Moses). Paul adapted and appropriated much from his ancient predecessors and peers. [End Page 238]
Stretching across vast expanses of land and time, empires defy singular understanding. Composed of conquered populations and mixing cultures, they are perhaps best understood in their crevices and their confluences. Reading empire in this way necessitates a turn to the margins and the rhetoric therein. As the Roman Empire is no exception, Marquis considers the rhetorical origins and development of Christianity from the empire's edges, from the position of those without official state support or widespread cultural cachet. Transient Apostle reminds us that Christianity, in its most nascent days, was a fringe movement working in the shadows of the Roman Empire. After all, Paul's ἐκκλησίαι (ekklēsiai, "assemblies") gathered in the private spaces of converts' homes (oikoi), rather than in the public spaces of the polis (Simonson 2011, 46). Far different from the state-sanctioned religion later legitimated by Constantine in the fourth century CE, Paul's movement was one of transgressive commission, divinely sanctioned travel, and tremendous suffering, all set against the background of a Roman Empire unfamiliar with, and largely unfriendly toward, such new behaviors.
At the core of Transient Apostle is an analysis of the complexities—political, cultural, and rhetorical—that emerge when divergent cultures come together in imperial contexts. Paul epitomizes the contentious interactions between imperial power and transgressive movements, particularly in an ancient world suspicious of travel and travelers. With much cultural parity in first-century CE Rome, foreigners professing new ideas roused ears and raised eyebrows. It is, Simonson argues, worth recalling "how wild Paul's core message would have sounded to many, if not most, of those who heard him tell it" (2011, 43). For instance, Greeks hearing Paul's message of a resurrected Jesus "would have been incredulous of, if not disgusted by, the idea of a dead body in the ground for three days that rose up and walked again" (Simonson 2011, 43). Coming from Judea—one of Rome's more marginal provinces—such ideas were understandably suspect in their foreignness, both geographic and theological. Charting how Paul rhetorically overcomes the complexities and perils of this unprecedented rhetorical situation in his letters is at the heart of Marquis's study.
Transient Apostle unpacks Paul's second letter to the Corinthian ekklēsia and is thus similar in focus to recent treatments of 1 Corinthians and Romans by Simonson and Agamben...