Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Antioch Incident: Mark Nanos’ View, Part One

We attend ourselves again to the three questions related to the Antioch incident this time turning to Mark Nanos’ contribution in the collection of essays he edited titled The Galatians Debate. In preparing the to write the post it became clear that I needed to break up my discussion of Mark's work as it would be much too lenghty for one post. So I am dividing into three parts. Part one will discuss his view of the questions: Who are “those of the circumcision” and What role does James play in the circumstances? Part two will address what Paul’s issue was with Peter? And Part three will be my evaluation.
(1) Who are “those of the circumcision”? and (2) What role does James play in the circumstances?
Before one finishes the introduction of his essay the reader encounters Mark’s translation of the Greek phrase tous ek peritomēs (lit. “those of/from the circumcision”). Typically this phrase is translated along the lines of the NIV, “the circumcision group” or the NRSV, “the circumcision faction”. Mark, however, goes his own way by translating the ek with the preposition “for”, thus expressing the adverbial logic of “advocacy”. Hence, he translates this phrase: “the ones for [advocating] circumcision” (2002:284).
Later Mark in so many words avers that the interpretation of this group is an essential crux for an interpretation of the whole episode because it is on account of the “fear” of these that Peter withdraws. What’s more, he admits that the attempt to identify the group is “extremely involved”. Mark’s interpretation rests on a few observations: (1) the term peritomē means “circumcision” and is a decidedly Jewish way to designate the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish males, and by extension human communities; (2) while there is much debate about whether Paul uses this term here to refer exclusively to those who believe in Jesus or those who don’t, Mark argues that it is simply not possible or logical to limit the usage in either of these directions on “lexical grounds” since Jewish believers in Jesus and those who aren’t would nonetheless still be without their foreskin; and (3) the phrase can be employed as an intra or inter-Jewish distinction: to distinguish among circumcised [so Jewish] people—Mark appeals to the immediate context where Peter and “the rest of the Jews” are circumcised but distinct from those called “those of the circumcision”. With these observations Mark concludes,

It is not just any Jewish group in view—and thus the members circumcised and advocating circumcision as a nor for Jewish people—but an interest group specifically distinguished from other groups of circumcised Jews as advocates of circumcision(2002:288; emphasis his).

This is surely not an overly controversial point [I will take some issue with it later], but Mark doesn’t stop here. He believes the type of advocacy can be delimited further: the circumcision party advocates “proselyte conversion” in conjunction with the prevailing view of the day. This view would be in direct conflict with the “coalition of Jewish believers-in-Jesus”. In sum, Mark claims that “the ones for circumcision” are likely the “representatives of the dominant Jewish communal norms” (2002:289).
One final comment related to the connection between the advocates of circumcision and the “ones from James” is in order. And we can perhaps dispense with the question of the identity of the latter here as well [question two for those keeping score]. Mark sees no compelling reason to regard these entities as one and the same as is often thought. Moreover, while not shutting the door completely to this idea, he largely disregards it as the most likely interpretation with the result that he sees James playing little to no role in the episode. An extended quote will sufficiently bear this out:

Paul does tell us not [sic] what the ones from James were advocating, or even precisely who they were or how they were or were not related to “the ones for circumcision,” but only the part the played in the timing of this incident: Peter began to withdraw and separate himself from eating with these Gentiles in the way that he had been doing so because he feared the ones advocating circumcision, and this occurred after the arrival of certain ones from James. Thus, when I refer to the ones for/advocating circumcision, or the ones that Peter fears, it should be understood that I am not referring to the certain ones who came from James (2002:292; emphasis added).

Works Cited

Dunn, James D.G. 2002. The Incident at Antioch (Gal 2:11-18). In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos:199-234. Peabody: Hendrickson
Nanos, Mark D. 2002. What was at Stake in Peter's "Eating with Gentiles" at Antioch. In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos:282-318. Peabody: Hendrickson


Sanders, E. P. 1990. Jewish Associations with Gentiles and Galatians 2:11-14. In The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul & John in Honor of J. Louis Martyn, ed. Robert Tomson Fortna and Beverly Roberts Gaventa:170-88. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

1 comment:

Geoff Hudson said...

Don't you mean 'as is usually thought', or, as any natural reading is understood? Men sent by James arrive, and Peter stops eating with Gentiles. The writer makes a deliberate connection. Pointedly, he has James locked in Jerusalem leading a church keeping some of its Jewish ways and interfering with the mission to Gentiles. Nanos' view that only the timing of the visit was relevant is simply 'splitting hairs'.