“Stupid” Galatians, Stupid Us

peacePole1Galatians Re-imagined by Brigitte Kahl gives us a major and salutary paradigm shift in our understanding of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.

1)      Kahl explores the extent (considerable) that the Celtic tribes, known collectively as Galatians were archetypal designated enemies of the Roman Empire, i.e. representative of lawlessness vis-à-vis Roman lawfulness. (Never mind how violent Roman law was.) The many sculptures of dying Gauls attest to Roman dominance of their designated enemies.

2)      The Pergamum frieze (likely what St. John the Divine called “the seat of Satan”) depicting the defeat of the “giants” by the Olympian deities is analyzed as an embodiment of Greek & Roman dominance of demonized enemies, i.e. the Galatians. Kahl also gives a chilling analysis of the sacrificial nature of gladiatorial games and how social mimetic tensions were channeled into these games.

3)      After several genocidal conquests, the Galatians in Asia Minor were “tamed” & integrated (uneasily) into the Roman power structure where they do to other enemies of the Empire what the Empire had done to them.

4)      Kahl then analyzes the uneasy status of the Jews in the Empire, allowing them to avoid direct participation in the Emperor’s cult in exchange for Jewish support of the Roman power structure.

5)      This provides the background to the bitter debate over circumcision in the epistle. For Paul, Jews and Gentiles are only fully reconciled in Christ if the two remain distinct while united, i.e. Jews are circumcised and Gentiles are not. To the Roman power structure, the notion of an uncircumcised person not participating in the imperial cult was an abomination, a confusion of categories. For those Jews who had accommodated themselves to the Roman Empire, this was a source of anxiety as it could jeopardize their fragile standing with the Empire, which proved to be the case.

6)      If Kahl is right, then Paul was not battling a Judaizing tendency but rather was battling an accommodation to the imperial structures, thus allowing the Roman Empire to define the relationships between Jews and Gentiles on their terms. This is why Paul is so insistent that the relationship between the two must be on Christ’s terms. The “stupid” Galatians were not in danger of backsliding into Jewishness but into the tyranny of the Empire, a danger we all face when tempted to allow contemporary imperial structures organize our outlook instead of Christ. Allowing the Empire to define our relationships assures that they will be violent because violence is the essence of Empire. (Divide and conquer.) Caring for one another in the reconciliation of Christ threatens imperial violence.

This list hardly does justice to the thorough research of this book. I strongly recommend it for its fresh and vital understanding of this important epistle of Paul, one that gives us a deep vision of the new humanity in Christ Paul was longing for.

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One thought on ““Stupid” Galatians, Stupid Us

  1. Thank you, Abbot Andrew — I hadn’t even thought about the ethnicity of the Galatians and their relationship with the Roman Empire and how this factored into Paul’s epistle. That Paul wasn’t writing of “backsliding into Jewishness” gives additional perspective to the early conflicts within Judaism vis-a-vis emerging Christianity. It also solidifies Paul’s contrasting of the two empires: Christ and Rome. I hope to read this book soon.

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