My Paper for the 2017 SBL Annual Meeting on Paul’s ‘Ascent and Torment’ in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

The paper I will be presenting at this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston is a work in progress and began as many projects do, as a segue off of a previous research agenda into the early Jewish reception of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. A couple years ago I found what could be an unlikely connection between Rabbinic language regarding the powers Abraham encountered as he ascended to the heights of heaven to the language found in Paul’s narration of his heavenly ascent in 2 Corinthians 12 that was most likely part of a larger apocalyptic promissory trope also in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature and beyond. Thus the paper was spawned (and is still spawning). I will be presenting the paper in the program unit entitled, ‘Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making.’ The theme for the program unit this year is 2 Corinthians 12. The title and abstract for my paper is as follows:

Ascent and Torment: The Apocalyptic Juxtaposition of an Abrahamic Victorious Ascent Trope in 2 Cor 12:1-10?

The much-discussed apocalyptic type scene of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 features the enigmatic narration of Paul’s ascent to the third heaven, which includes an angel of Satan being sent to torment him. In the immediate context of the so-called “Fool’s Speech” (2 Cor 11:21b-12:10), there is a rhetorical move highlighting the apparent opponents appeal to their identity in ascending order as “Hebrews,” “Israelites,” “seed of Abraham,” and “servants of Christ,” all to which Paul climatically asserts he is “a better one.” This is an ironic proposal as a narration of an apocalyptic ascent to the third heaven is placed in the midst of a listing of weaknesses and the claim that an angel of Satan is sent to torment him. This paper will seek to draw out an implicit connection between Paul’s appeal to being the “seed of Abraham” and the ascent narrative by way of juxtaposition of early Jewish apocalyptic and rabbinic traditions concerning the ascent of Abraham which allude to the victorious usurpation of hostile heavenly forces (e.g. Apoc. Abr. 20:3-5; Genesis Rabbah 44:12) with an alternate ascent that results in torment from an angel of Satan. This would result in a Pauline apocalyptic re-appropriation of an existing victorious ascent tradition around the crucified Messiah, which serves as a kind of reorientation of the Corinthians’ ethics, perception of the Christ tradition, and the rehabilitation of the image of Paul as apostle of the crucified Lord.

Unfortunately our time slot fell on Tuesday morning, the last day of the conference, but I think our session is enticing enough for those who have stuck around and share an interest in Pauline apocalypticism. The presentation schedule is quite promising (see below) featuring actual scholars worth hearing if you aren’t interested in mine.

Make sure and add it to your schedule on the SBL/AAR app for your phone or make note of it in your program book. Looking forward to a great session in Boston!

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