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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 61, 2013

JEROME MURPHY-O’CONNOR, Keys to Galatians: Collected Essays (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012). Pp. xvi + 194. Paperback. $32.95.

This collection of ten articles addresses various issues in the interpretation of aspects of the letter to the Galatians written during the author’s teaching at the École Biblique in Jerusalem 1982-2012. These articles were previously published in Revue Biblique, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovanensium and the Journal for the Study of New Testament Supplement Series. Such a collection of articles from an eminent scholar already has a value. What makes this collection noteworthy is that each of the articles has a post-script in which he revisits these topics so that the reader is given access to the on-going discussion, and the benefit of the author’s engagement with other scholars, both friends and foes, on these matters. For anyone who has a professional interest in the letter to the Galatians it is fascinating to accompany the author as he revisits the sites of past skirmishes and battles, and there is no sign of a lack of enthusiasm for the contest or wrestling with the anomalies he identifies in the text.

Murphy-O’Connor is always one to explore questions and issues arising in the text from a fresh and creative perspective. The mission to Arabia mentioned in Gal 1:17 is argued to have been short-lived in the northern part of the Nabatean kingdom where Paul preached Jesus as Saviour to pagans (Chapter 2). The evangelisation of the Galatians is argued to have taken place between 46–48 CE, making it one of Paul’s earliest letters. From the point of view of Pauline chronology it is argued that this mission took place before the Jerusalem visit mentioned in Gal 2:1–10 (Chapter 1). Murphy-O’Connor is a proponent of the Northern Galatian hypothesis and his view is that the letter is addressed to a number of small house churches in a rural village in Northern Galatia, though he does consider in the postscript that the number of addressees could possibly be explained as resulting from the preaching of some of Paul’s converts (Chapter 8).

A consequence of the early dating of the letter means that Paul’s opponents could not have been representatives of the community in Jerusalem sent after the Jerusalem meeting of Gal 2:1–10. This leads to the conclusion that they must have come from Antioch-on-the Orontes (Chapter 6). The different spelling for Jerusalem in Gal 1:17–18; 4:25–26 is argued to reflect their usage (Chapter 3). The inconsistency in James’ position regarding circumcision in Gal 2:1–10 and dietary laws in Gal 2:11–14 is attributed to issues of nationalism and Church policy as they emerged in Antioch-on-the-Orontes (Chapter 5). Having proposed that the letter comes early in Paul’s missionary career leads to another challenge, that is, how to explain some of the distinctive Christology of the letter, particularly the stress on Jesus’ death as a sinless and yet crucified Messiah. Another distinctive feature treated is the unity of Christ with believers and with one another. The suggestion is made that it was internal and external factors in Galatia that prompted Paul to develop the received kerygma in these radically new directions (Chapter 10).

Murphy-O’Connor is convinced of Paul’s sophisticated use of Hellenistic rhetorical practices. The phrase “running in vain” in Gal 2:2 is argued to be an example of the rhetorical device of concessio where his opponents are led to believe that Paul will capitulate to their demand and position, only to find that they have been caught out and humiliated publically (Chapter 4). Paul’s rhetorical training comes to the fore in Gal 2:15–16a where concessio is suggested to be operative in the phrase concerning the possibility of being justified by works of the law (Chapter 6).

Murphy-O’Connor makes the point that, while the letter is addressed to the Galatians, it is intended for the Judaizing intruders from Antioch-on-the-Orontes who have come to Galatia. It is argued that they, rather that the Galatians, would have been the only ones with sufficient background to understand Paul’s argument about Abraham in Gal 3:15, and his use of concessio in Gal 2:2 and 2:15–16a (Chapters 4, 6 and 7). The Galatians themselves are depicted as wavering and in need of encouragement in Gal 6:2 of the unwritten law of Christ in order to faithfully maintain the tradition they had received from Paul (Chapter 9).

This is a collection of articles intended for a well-informed and specialist reader. For those interested in Galatians you may not always agree with Murphy-O’Connor, but you cannot ignore his wrestling with problems in the text and his suggestions as to how they can be resolved.

Review by
Yarra Theological Union
MCD University of Divinity, Box Hill