Friday, July 13, 2012

Pauline Soteriology: Theosis or Deification (Part I: Ben Blackwell)

As I was entering the Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity program at the University of Virginia, I was told another entering student would be working on theosis or deification in Paul, and I thought, "That's weird."  I hope I can be forgiven such a dismissive reaction, since my interest in Paul at the time was mostly to do with the so-called apocalyptic Paul.  In Joseph Kitagawa's foreword to Peter Brown's Haskell Lectures (The Cult of the Saints), he observes, "A number of graduate students remarked to me that at the beginning of the five lectures, they had no interest in the cult of the saints at all; by their conclusion, they had more interest in that subject than in their own area of research!" (x).  I have occasionally felt the same about the work of my colleague at UVa, David Litwa.  I have already mentioned that his book, We Are Being Transformed:  Deification in Paul's Soteriology (BZNW 187; Goettingen: de Gruyter), came out earlier this year.  His intensity and tenacity in exploring the theme of deification in the ancient world and Paul is contagious.  As it turns out, though, David has not been the only one thinking along such lines.  Ben Blackwell's revised Durham dissertation, Christosis (WUNT II, vol. 314; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011) also takes up the theme.  Indeed, there have been a few hints toward the question by Michael Gorman and Stephen Finlan, but these two volumes by Blackwell and Litwa represent the first two detailed discussions of theosis/deification as a Pauline soteriological model. One could not ask for more different approaches.  Blackwell suggests that there are two open paths for investigating the theme of theosis in Paul:  one can approach the subject either through history of religions or through history of interpretation.  Surely there are other approaches as well, but this simple schema highlights precisely the difference between Litwa and Blackwell.  In this post, and in one or two following, I will be reviewing Blackwell and Litwa, and I will offer some concluding thoughts.  Those who know my online style know that I can come off as hyper-critical.  To my mind, one of the highest compliments one can pay to an author is sharp criticism.  I trust that those under review will so take the following remarks.