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Title: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: Polemical hyperbole
Authors: Sanders, E.P.
Schlueter, Carol J.
Religious Studies
Keywords: literature;religious studies;Religion;Religion
Issue Date: 1992
Abstract: <p>This thesis addresses the problem of understanding Paul's relationship to the Jewish people in the light of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. The problem arises because in this passage Paul castigates the Jews and finishes by saying that God's judgment upon them is extended without limit, whereas in Romans 9-11 he finds a positive place for them in God's plan of salvation. This contradiction has puzzled many scholars. Traditional solutions to the problem are reviewed, including theories of the inauthenticity of 1 Thess. 2:14-16 and attempts at harmonizing it with the passage in Romans. Such approaches are shown to be inadequate and a fresh investigation of the content of the statements about the Jews is initiated. Through historical investigation, a link is revealed between most of the statements in 1 Thess. 2:14-16: they appear to be exaggerations. As a result, the Greek and Roman rhetors are used as an entry point into the nature and function of extreme language. How statements in 1 Thess. 2:14-16 are exaggerated, and how they function in the chapter and the letter are investigated. The resultant hypothesis is that Paul, a skilled debater, used polemical hyperbole to polarize issues and to move his readers to his side while casting his opponents (in this case, the Jews) completely on the wrong side. The hypothesis is tested in other letters where Paul addresses opponents. Evidence from Galatians, the Corinthian correspondence, and Romans supports the hypothesis. It is argued that Paul frequently amplified his main points through the use of hyperbole, exhibiting various levels of polemical intensity against his opponents. A comparison of these letters reveals that his polemic against other Christians is at least as strong as--if not stronger than--that against the Jews. Recognition of his responses to competition from other Christians brings more balance to the historical picture of his polemical hyperbole against the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. At the end of Romans, his rhetoric against the Jews was more subdued. He was explaining God's plan and not battling Jewish opposition. Finally, Paul's statements about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians indicate a lively and continuing relationship between compatriots and not a separation of religions.</p>
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