Constructing Paul, (dis)placing Ephesians: the Pauline book and the dilemma of Ephesians
Petroelje, Benjamin J.
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The problem of how to situate Ephesians vis-à-vis Paul and Paulinism—one with a long and venerable history in Pauline scholarship, although now largely taken for granted—is better characterised as the problem of how to read Ephesians vis-à-vis the corpus Paulinum. Any study of Paul, working in historical mode, has to reckon with the nature of the evidence: to study Paul is to be a student, firstly, of a letter collection. Any judgment about Ephesians, then, is, in the end, born from a judgment about how to read a letter collection. This thesis, therefore, comprises three parts. Part 1 recounts the rise of a distinctively modern way of (not) reading Paul's letter collection, which privileges discrete letters, chronologically arranged, as the raw data for narrating Pauline biography and early Christianity (chapter one), and the effect that this reading strategy has on Ephesians, which is now displaced—one strand of the welter of the Pauline legacy (chapter two). Together, chapters one and two make the negative argument that the consensus on Ephesians, more than a scientific reconstruction of history, is a hermeneutical construct of modern criticism. Part 2 turns to Paul's late-ancient tradents to ask the same two questions: how do these readers read Paul's letter collection (chapter three), and how does this impact how they read Ephesians (chapter four)? Chapter three finds that late-antique Paulinists privilege, at one and the same time, both the collectivity/arrangement of the corpus and fragmentary ways of reading it that derive from the practices of late-ancient grammar. The priority of the collection, together with reading strategies that negotiate rather than dis- place difference, serves to place Ephesians consistently near the centre of late-ancient portraits of Paul—so the argument of chapter four. A different way of reading a letter collection generates a different way of reading Ephesians vis-à-vis Paul. This is the cumulative argument of Part 2. Part 3, then, picks up one of the most pervasive contemporary judgements about Ephesians—its developed image of Paul (chapter five) as inscribed in 3.1-13—in order to ask a simple question: if one does not begin with assumptions about authenticity and chronology, how do this text read vis-à-vis relevant co-texts within Paul's letter collection? Contemporary rhetoric aside, chapter five argues that Ephesians holds together various tensions in the collection's image of Paul that surface not just between so-called disputed and undisputed letters, but between the undisputed letters themselves. Rather than developed, a less hermeneutically loaded designation of the difference would be to call Eph 3.1-13 a generalised account of what we find ad hoc in the other letters. But this does not allow one to make claims about historical distance. At least with respect to its image of Paul, then, I argue that Ephesians is a source for Paul, whether Paul wrote it or not. This relatively simple argument has three rather significant implications:  scholars of early Christianity lose a key text frequently used to situate Ephesians in the middle of developmental trajectories of Pauline reception;  scholars of Paul may not buttress one-sided accounts of Paul by appeal to the 'divergent' or 'developed' account of the same in Ephesians—that is, they must deal with the data of Ephesians, or provide an account of why they do not; and  scholars of Ephesians, not least of 3.1-13, will need to learn to speak of Paul, and not just the Pauline legacy, again.