The Memory of Moses and the Israelites in Paul’s Appeal to Reconciliation in 1 Corinthians

Finn Damgaard, University of Copenhagen

SBL22-122  Mapping Memory: Tradition, Texts, and Identity

11/22/2008  4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

I take as my starting point, Margaret M. Mitchell’s illuminating approach to 1 Corinthians as an appeal to reconciliation in her "Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation" (Louisville 1992). It is my thesis that the memories of Moses and the Israelites’ seditions in the wilderness play a crucial role for Paul’s appeal to reconciliation not only in 1 Cor 10:1-11 but throughout the letter. In the paper, I examine the way these narratives function as master commemorative narratives. By pointing to the narratives of Moses and the Israelites as a narrative frame for the founding of the Corinthian congregation and the present conflict, Paul tries to revise and re-establish the identity of the Corinthians. It is argued that the factions with which Paul is concerned in 1 Corinthians are keyed to the memories of the factions against Moses. Paul read these narratives in 1 Corinthians in the light of the ancient topos of factionalism (stasis) and uses them to make certain points about the proper behaviour of the Corinthian community. Just as he propagates a memory of Moses as struggling for concord (omónoia) among the Israelites in the wilderness, so Paul pictures himself as playing a crucial role in this strategy of identification as the one who continues the struggle of Moses in his own day. By invoking a memory of these narratives that fits Paul’s aim, he seeks to structure the collective memory of the Corinthians and reconstruct their identity as a unified community. Paul’s appeal to reconciliation is an appeal through collective memory.