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Social Systems in Transition: The Meaning of Collective Identity and the Interpretation and Translation of the Greek Term Sarx in Paul’s Letters

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MaSarx (Social Systems in Transition: The Meaning of Collective Identity and the Interpretation and Translation of the Greek Term Sarx in Paul’s Letters)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2020-08-17 do 2022-08-16

Religious communities today act as both significant resources, as well as potential threats to cooperation in diversity. The purpose of the project was to investigate the first-century writer Paul’s view of collective (ethnic, cultural and religious) identity, and to consider the interpretation and translation of the Greek term σάρξ (sarx) in relation to this issue.
Rhetorical and linguistic analyses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians showed that not only did he affirm an increased level of diversity in important aspects of the community he encountered, but that he also explicitly refuted any replacement or successionist paradigms in the relation between Jews and Galatians while providing sophisticated arguments against calls for assimilation while. The term σάρξ was interpreted in the project as a monosemous term with a relatively uncomplicated semantic structure, namely as meaning collective group and/or collective identity. This meaning has been tested in other texts elsewhere but until now was never tested as a consistent semantic structure across the uses of the term in Galatians. The result of the analyses was affirmative. A high risk/high gain component of the project, this result has far-reaching consequences for the interpretation of the term and with it, the understanding of Paul’s argumentation with regard to the construct of collective identity in this letter. Paul addressed the collective group’s desire for conformity and affirmed that they must not succumb to such pressure —the desire of the σάρξ.
The objectives of the action included mapping the occurrences of σάρξ in Paul, and analyzing them in their literary context. The second objective was to compare these uses of σάρξ with uses of the term in relevant contemporary literature, an objective to be further explored. Third, social systems theory (Bowen) was adopted as an interpretive lens. As research into social systems consistently has shown, social systems with a high level of differentiation are more resilient than systems with lower levels. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul seeks to defend an increased level of differentiation (i.e. the extent of individual variation supported by the system). The fourth objective was to consider options for translation of relevant passages in Paul’s letters into a sample of target languages.
Together, a more monosemous interpretation of the term σάρξ, a rhetorical analysis of Galatians that renders a more coherent understanding of the letter. Social systems theory provides the conceptual tools to see dimensions of the text that might have gone unnoticed if one did not employ this lens. In times of hardships and stress, most social systems go through a phase of trying to decrease the level of differentiation but relevant knowledge could motivate subgroups and individuals to choose ways that instead would promote the resilience in the system, namely, to resist the desire for conformity. The result of the project has significant implications for any minority that is compelled to assimilate and under-function, and for the resilience in the larger system. The results move the state of the art beyond its previous state, and the implications are relevant for those who seeks to understand and act in favor of the resilience in any particular social system.
The action consisted in four work packages that were related to four objectives: linguistic and philological analysis, comparative literature, social-scientific hermeneutics, and the creative investigation of translation options.
First, the occurrences of σάρξ in Paul’s letter to the Galatians was analyzed within their literary context. As the letter was intended for oral delivery, the structure of the letter was scrutinized by means of the identification of audible transition markers. Such markers were until now neglected in relation to the passage in Galatians in which the term σάρξ is frequently used. The analysis evidenced that the passage, which was previously read as if disconnected from the major argument, could be read as developing the major argument in significant ways. The analysis also evidenced a more monosemous interpretation of σάρξ as focusing on collective aspects in human life. The result rendered a more coherent argumentative discourse. The results suggest an understanding beyond the now-discredited Hellenism-Judaism divide, but also beyond the individualistic legacy of much contemporary New Testament study. The results of the project challenge long-standing translations of Galatians, as the semantic components collective group and/or collective identity cannot be restructured by means of the target term “flesh.” As a social systems approach was applied, the suggestions offered by Paul could be appreciated as supporting the resilience of the system—an aspect previous obscured by more polysemous approaches to the term σάρξ.

In this project, the dissemination is the first step in exploitation, which included peer-reviewed articles, workshops, and papers at international conferences. The major academic publication is the monograph that was given the title Paul and Diversity: A New Perspective on Σάρξ and Resilience in Galatians (Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, in press). Furthermore, six papers were presented at international scholarly conferences, including the paper “Religious Systems in Transition” that was presented at the multi- and interdisciplinary conference arranged by the International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS). Popular communication and dissemination included two popular articles and seven public lectures. After being awarded a Marie Sklodowska Curie fellowship, the beneficiary was also offered the position as a primary translator for the forthcoming translation of the New Testament to Swedish (see www.bibelsällskapet.se/om-bibelsallskapet/oversatta-bibeln/nt-2026) a welcome opportunity to exploit the project results.
The project offered an innovative and highly relevant reading of Paul’s attitudes toward the construct of collective identity, which had the capacity to take into account the beneficent elements in human diversity and differentiation. The project showed important points of connection between an ancient letter and modern conceptual models for understanding social systems to transition. The reactions of such systems play a relevant role in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and a renewed reading may assist in remedying a previous lack of understanding of social systems in transition for the readers of this text. While earlier understandings of σάρξ in Galatians assumed an individualistically oriented meaning in the term, Paul was conceived of as attacking the desire in the individual, which entailed hostility against individuals—in particular against individuals representing difference in the minds of those holding such views. However, when σάρξ is interpreted as a collectively oriented term, the passage with a frequent use of the term could be shown to address the desire for conformity within the collective group, which is in keeping with the over-all argument of the text. The study is published in Routledge’s series on interdisciplinary approaches in Biblical studies, which will contribute to the dissemination of these results and their impact.
Portrait of the PI