SBL: The 2 Corinthians Seminar, Session 1

A good chunk of my time in New Orleans was spent participating in the Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making Seminar, chaired by Reimund Bieringer, Thomas Schmeller and Edith Humphrey.  The formal description of the work of the seminar is:

Existing Pauline Theologies are
either based on the ripe fruit of Paul’s theologizing in Romans (e.g., J. Dunn)
or give a synthesis of theological themes across the board of Paul’s
letters. The focus of this Seminar is how Paul develops his theology in his
second letter to the Corinthians. We shall trace aspects of his theology on
a trajectory from their very beginning in concrete historical situations
and compare them to their reuse in more abstract contexts. Attention will
also be given to their potential pre-Christian or early Christian
pre-history and their post-history in what has been called the Pauline school.
The main focus will be on the way concrete historical circumstances shaped
the genesis of certain theological themes and how they changed when new
circumstances arose or when the link to concrete circumstances got lost.
Each theological theme will therefore primarily be studied in its
epistolary context of 2 Corinthians and in light of the historical
situation in which it was developed. The comparison with other letters is
not intended to create one unified Pauline theology, but rather, in the
contrast with other instances, to understand better the specifics of the
theme under study.

I am not sure that the sessions in which I participated offered much explicit attention to the issues as defined above. However it is definitely the case that the seminar works hard to explore and articulate the theology in 2 Corinthians through detailed study of the specificity of the text (i.e. without being overly hasty in drawing in data from the other epistles).

There were 3 sessions.  The first was a general session on aspects of the letter. My own presentation was here, and on the whole it went well. Member of the seminar made helpful suggestions developing the argument made in the paper, namely that 2 Cor 1.3-7 and Paul's language of consolation there functions as an initial construal of the mutual relationship shared by Paul and the Corinthians in their conformity to the cruciform pattern of Christ's death and resurrection. The focus of conversation was inevitably on whether such an introduction best relates only to the letter of reconciliation or to the whole of canonical 2 Corinthians. I am, at this stage, leaning towards the latter view.  Larry Welborn, who was also speaking at this session, took me to task on the Greco-Roman sources. I am still pretty sure that the best explanatory context is Paul's Bible rather than the therapeutic letter genre.  Welborn has a large book on 2 Corinthians coming out soon with de Gruyter (as incidentally does Margaret Mitchell with CUP).

Welborn's paper was something of a tour de force, arguing that the citation of Deuteronomy at 2 Cor 13.1 serves to identify Paul not as the 'witness' who visits 3 times, but rather as the one accused by an individual at Corinth of financial embezzlement. Paul cites scripture to reject the witness of one individual. The bigger book will establish the case more fully, but three thoughts struck me: (a) it is a quite brilliant exegetical suggestion and solves a notorious crux; (b) Welborn argues that for the theory to work, then a partition hypothesis is needed (too complex to discuss here), and I want to go away and think if that is really the case; (c) the further suggestion that the citation works because the Corinthians had implemented Paul's instructions in 1 Cor 6 and established church 'courts' that ran on Jewish lines is, while attractive, unlikely.

The third paper was by Dustin Ellington and explored the ways in which 2 Cor 10-13, while clearly focussed on polemic and apologetic, nevertheless also has a parenetic function. There was general assent to this and a number of the observations made in the paper (not least on Paul's use of the epistolary plural) resonated with the argument in my paper.