Paul’s Beatitudes and Absence
In this post, I’m interested in language. Yes, language sometimes conveys reality, fact if you will. And yes some language is for fable. Surely most language mixes the two. Whenever somebody writes with language of power, of one’s authority over the other, especially to establish as reality the authority of the one over the other, then postmodernisms have taught us to pay attention. This is the hermeneutic of suspicion. Feminisms, likewise, get us noting when language is imbalanced, when it sexes the body fe-male making the male the default and the other sex, well, the other, the wo-man, the one different, aberrant, naturally deviant or mutated and therefore logically less than the male. This is the history of much of the language of the West.
So I’m interested in The Acts of Paul and Thelca. Maybe we would do well to pay attention to its language, to the implications of its language. Suzanne has done this in her post Assault and virtue. And Victoria has in her post Sexual Assault and Women’s Agency, or, Desire and the Disrupted Mob: The Story of Thecla and Trifina.
In reading “The Acts of Paul and Thelca” and Victoria’s post and another, Suzanne gets us paying attention to how girls (not so much boys) get Othered, even in how differently they are spoken of when victimized sexually:
[I]n challenging those who bewail the virtue of the young girl who was a victim of sexual assault, I ask you to consider the real pain of a child trauma victim, whether it is a boy or girl, raped, injured or invaded by instruments.
Victoria gets to some of the shock of the old story:
“To whose privy-parts” they did what?!?! This is some real sexual nastiness here: apparently, being killed by bulls who’ve had red-hot pokers applied to their balls is seen as a fitting end for an uppity emasculating bitch.
So I just want to get back to the language of the “flesh.” It’s such a crucial part of the imbalanced, unequal Acts of Paul on the one hand and of Thelca on the other. Early in the story, we readers understand that Titus does not know yet what Paul looks like. So the Greek story teller tells of the following: “τῇ εἰδέᾳ ὁ Παῦλος· οὐ γὰρ εἶδεν αὐτὸν σαρκὶ ἀλλὰ μόνον πνεύματι” or “a description of Paul’s personage, they as yet not knowing him in person, but only being acquainted with his character” or “what manner of man Paul was in appearance; for he had not seen him in the flesh, but only in the spirit.” When they do see him, they can’t decide whether this not really so handsome man is, well, a man like them or an angel. (I’ll spare you the description so you can just read it for yourself.)
But this angel language seems to come into play soon after, when Paul pronounces blessings in the house of would-be enemies. He says:
Μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.
μακάριοι οἱ ἁγνὴν τὴν σάρκα τηρήσαντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ναὸς θεοῦ γενήσονται.
Μακάριοι οἱ ἐγκρατεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοῖς λαλήσει ὁ θεός.
μακάριοι οἱ ἀποταξάμενοι τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ εὐαρεστήσουσιν τῷ θεῷ.
μακάριοι οἱ ἔχοντες γυναῖκας ὡς μὴ ἔχοντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὸν θεόν.
μακάριοι οἱ φόβον ἔχοντες θεοῦ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἄγγελοι θεοῦ γενήσονται.
1:12 Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
1:13 Blessed are they who keep their flesh undefiled (or pure); for they shall be the temple of God.
1:14 Blessed are the temperate (or chaste); for God will reveal himself to them.
1:15 Blessed are they who abandon their secular enjoyments; for they shall be accepted of God.
1:16 Blessed are they who have wives, as though they had them not; for they shall be made angels of God.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are they that keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God.
Blessed are they that abstain (or the continent), for unto them shall God speak.
Blessed are they that have renounced this world, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.
Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God.
Blessed are they that have the fear of God, for they shall become angels of God.
(6.) Μακάριοι οἱ τρέμοντες τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.
μακάριοι οἱ σοφίαν λαβόντες Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ ὑψίστου κληθήσονται.
μακάριοι οἱ τὸ βάπτισμα τηρήσαντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἀναπαύσονται πρὸς τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱόν.
μακάριοι οἱ σύνεσιν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ χωρήσαντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐν φωτὶ γενήσονται.
μακάριοι οἱ δι’ ἀγάπην θεοῦ ἐξελθόντες τοῦ σχήματος τοῦ κοσμικοῦ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἀγγέλους κρινοῦσιν καὶ ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ πατρὸς εὐλογηθήσονται.
μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται καὶ οὐκ ὄψονται ἡμέραν κρίσεως πικράν.
1:17 Blessed are they who tremble at the word of God; for they shall be comforted.
1:18 Blessed are they who keep their baptism pure; for they shall find peace with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
1:19 Blessed are they who pursue the wisdom (or doctrine) of Jesus Christ; for they shall be called the sons of the Most High.
1:20 Blessed are they who observe the instructions of Jesus Christ; for they shall dwell in eternal light.
1:21 Blessed are they, who for the love of Christ abandon the glories of the world; for they shall judge angels, and be placed at the right hand of Christ, and shall not suffer the bitterness of the last judgment.
6 Blessed are they that tremble at the oracles of God, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that receive the wisdom of Jesus Christ, for they shall be called sons of the Most High.
Blessed are they that have kept their baptism pure, for they shall rest with the Father and with the Son.
Blessed are they that have compassed the understanding of Jesus Christ, for they shall be in light.
Blessed are they that for love of God have departed from the fashion of this world, for they shall judge angels, and shall be blessed at the right hand of the Father.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy and shall not see the bitter day of judgement.
Μακάρια τὰ σώματα τῶν παρθένων, ὅτι αὐτὰ εὐαρεστήσουσιν τῷ θεῷ καὶ οὐκ ἀπολέσουσιν τὸν μισθὸν τῆς ἁγνείας αὐτῶν· ὅτι ὁ λόγος τοῦ πατρὸς ἔργον αὐτοῖς γενήσεται σωτηρίας εἰς ἡμέραν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀνάπαυσιν ἕξουσιν εἰς αἰῶνα αἰῶνος.
1:22 Blessed are the bodies and souls of virgins; for they are acceptable to God, and shall not lose the reward of their virginity; for the word of their (heavenly) Father shall prove effectual to their salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall enjoy rest for evermore.
Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well- pleasing unto God and shall not lose the reward of their continence (chastity), for the word of the Father shall be unto them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest world Without end.
I’m reading the Greek, and the translation Victoria gives (from Jeremiah Jones), and the English translation from M.R. James with considerations from variant texts including Coptic fragments of the story.
Go see again what the reference to angels (and men) is. And pay attention to the bodies of the virgins at the end of Paul’s Beatitudes.
Now we fast forward to one of the points in the story that Victoria points out. And I’m including what B. Diane Lipsett says about the Greek language at this point and how it can be translated. Notice how she points out that Paul is absent at this point in the story. And notice how the language goes at this point:
Αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες ἄλλων θηρίων βαλλομένων φοβερωτέρων ὠλόλυξαν, καὶ αἱ μὲν ἔβαλλον φύλλον, αἱ δὲ νάρδον, αἱ δὲ κασίαν, αἱ δὲ ἄμωμον, ὡς εἶναι πλῆθος μύρων. πάντα δὲ τὰ βληθέντα θηρία ὥσπερ ὕπνῳ κατασχεθέντα οὐχ ἥψαντο αὐτῆς· ὡς τὸν Ἀλέξανδρον εἰπεῖν τῷ ἡγεμόνι Ταύρους ἔχω λίαν φοβερούς, ἐκείνοις προσδήσωμεν τὴν θηριομάχον. καὶ στυγνάσας ἐπέτρεψεν ὁ ἡγεμὼν λέγων Ποίει ὃ θέλεις. Καὶ ἔδησαν αὐτὴν ἐκ τῶν ποδῶν μέσον τῶν ταύρων, καὶ ὑπὸ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα αὐτῶν πεπυρωμένα σίδηρα ὑπέθηκαν, ἵνα πλείονα ταραχθέντες ἀποκτείνωσιν αὐτήν. οἱ μὲν οὖν ἥλλοντο· ἡ δὲ περικαιομένη φλὸξ διέκαυσεν τοὺς κάλους, καὶ ἦν ὡς οὐ δεδεμένη.
9:10 Yet they turned other wild beasts upon her; upon which they made a very mournful outcry; and some of them scattered spikenard, others cassia, other amomus [a sort of spikenard, or the herb of Jerusalem, or ladies-rose], others ointment; so that the quantity of ointment was large, in proportion to the number of people; and upon this all the beasts lay as though they had been fast asleep, and did not touch Thecla.
9:11 Whereupon Alexander said to the Governor, I have some very terrible bulls; let us bind her to them. To which the governor, with concern, replied, You may do what you think fit.
9:12 Then they put a cord round Thecla’s waist, which bound also her feet, and with it tied her to the bulls, to whose privy-parts they applied red-hot irons, that so they being the more tormented, might more violently drag Thecla about, till they had killed her.
35 Now the women, when other more fearful beasts were put in, shrieked aloud, and some cast leaves, and others nard, others cassia, and some balsam, so that there was a multitude of odours; and all the beasts that were struck thereby were held as it were in sleep and touched her not; so that Alexander said to the governor: I have some bulls exceeding fearful, let us bind the criminal to them. And the governor frowning, allowed it, saying: Do that thou wilt. And they bound her by the feet between the bulls, and put hot irons under their bellies that they might be the more enraged and kill her. They then leaped forward; but the flame that burned about her, burned through the ropes, and she was as one not bound.
One of the things I’m hoping we notice here is how unequal the language, how it exacerbates and highlights the difference between males and their counterpart fe-males. In the Acts of Paul and Thelca, the one certainly seems less marked and more powerful than the Other.