Humanities
Boston College The Concept of Porneia Essay

Boston College

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2 essay questions. 800-1000 words each. Use the bible, NRSV, NASB, McGrath, and Borg & Wright as resources. Internet sources not allowed. There are a total of 12 questions, and we choose 2 to write about. Each question is about the story of Christianity. Specifics will be in the document.

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Exam No.2, Spring 2020 PH116 Christian Ways of Life Eric Michael Dale, PhD This exam is due uploaded on Canvas by Monday, 6 April 2020. Pick two of the essay topics below and write complete essays answering them to the best of your ability. Your answers must be 800-1000 words each. You may write more. You may not write less. Format is unimportant, just be clear and consistent. Feel free to bring in any material you think useful. Our texts, class discussions, and the Bible are enough to answer these questions, but feel free to bring in other sources if you need to do so. I will look unfavorably on those who ignore our class readings in favor of internet sources…. My only requirement for biblical versions is that you use the NRSV or the NASB, as these are scholarly standards. Be aware that the internet is a notorious place for studies of Christianity and the Bible. Pro- or antibias is the norm, not the exception. I urge strong caution when citing websites, particularly when covered with paid ads from an obvious ideological point of view (far left, far right, etc.) McGrath, and Borg & Wright, ought to be your best source, next to the Bible. They have bibliographic resources listed in their works, it’s a good place to start should you need further material. JSTOR has hundreds of journal articles as well, and Iwasaki gives you free access. In many of the topics below, I will often ask you to “read and discuss” a paper. This means an analytical assessment of the arguments in which you agree, disagree, explain, and assess, not a summary of the paper you read. If you hand in an 800 word summary and a 100 word “analysis” you can just write “C” on your assignment and save me the trouble bothering with it. ************************************************************************************ 1. Compare the portrayal of the Roman Empire and state authority in New Testament texts, concentrating especially on: Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17; and Revelation. Was Christianity a politically conservative movement for its time or a revolutionary movement for its time? Both? Neither? Or does this define things too narrowly? What was the political relevance of Christianity, if any? If early Christians were in fact revolutionary (Jesus was, after all, executed by the Romans on a charge of political sedition), why all these statements about obeying and honoring authorities in these later texts? If early Christians were in fact conservative, why were they persecuted and punished by the Roman authorities as a banned sect who undermined social norms and values? 2. Try to reconstruct the events that occasioned Paul’s brief letter to Philemon and consider the following questions: To whom is the letter addressed? (You should take note of the fact that in the Greek text, the occurrences of the second person pronouns are all singular except those in verses 3, 22, and 25, where they are plural.) What is the rhetorical effect of alternating the intended audience in this manner? And does this peculiarity help us to understand the purpose of the letter? What can we learn about the social organization of this particular Christian community? How does Paul fit into its authority structures? What are the social classes of the main players (Paul, Philemon, Onesimus)? What can we learn about the social interaction of Christians from different social classes? What can we learn about Christian attitudes toward Roman slavery? 3. It is widely agreed that women played a very important role in Paul’s Christian communities. Discuss the tension within the genuine Pauline materials concerning the role of women, e.g. in mentions of individual women, such as Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3, 18:18, 18:26, Romans 16:4, 1 Cor 16:19). Most scholars believe 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:33-36 are insertions by another author/editor since they do not fit the general egalitarian tenor of Paul’s thought (cf., for example, Paul’s claim in Galatians 3:28). How do they seem to fit here? Finally, compare descriptions of women’s roles in communities in the later deutero-Pauline tradition, focusing on 1 Timothy 2. How did this later tradition change Paul’s original vision? 4. What did the early Christian communities look like? One thing we can be certain of is that they were a diverse lot, with local particularities determining things like leadership, liturgy, and (early on, at least) even basic beliefs. A great example of the sort of scholarship that teases out these details is R. Ascough’s paper “The Thessalonian Christian Community as a Professional Voluntary Association” (on Canvas). Ascough’s paper explores how early Christian groups fitted their new faith to their existing situations by looking at the earliest writing in the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians. What can we learn about the growth and development of Christian belief and practice from Ascough’s work? Can this shed light on contemporary Christian practice as well? Discuss. 5. Christianity began as a messianic movement among Roman Jews in Galilee and the Transjordan. Possibly during Jesus’s lifetime, and certainly within a few years of his death, Gentiles began being drawn to the Jesus movement. By the time Paul was traveling around the eastern Mediterranean in the 40s-50s, there were non-Jewish Christian communities in most major cities. This immediately raised the vexed question of Christian identity vis a vis Jewish tradition. Where did early Christians stand on the issue of observing Jewish law? Were they required to keep all of it? some of it? none of it? There are at least three overlapping stances in the New Testament: the community that produced Matthew (esp. chapter 5-7, Jesus reinterprets Jewish law), the authentic letters of Paul (esp. Galatians and Romans, the law condemns us but grace forgives us), and the letter of James (the law shows us how to live Godly lives). What does the variety of opinions and teachings on the status of Jewish religious law suggest about the relationship between Christians and Jews in early Christianity? 6. “Son of God” – whatever it might mean, no other title is more closely associated in the imagination with Jesus of Nazareth than this phrase. Later in the tradition this will be some of the primary language in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. But we’re not there yet. Instead, we should ask what the title Son of God meant to the earliest Christians. After all, pagans used the language of sons and daughters of deities frequently – is this also part of the early Christian usage, or does it have another provenance? A. Collins argues that there was a diversity of meanings in this title for early Christians, and in her paper “Mark and His Readers: The Son of God among Greeks and Romans” (on Canvas) she demonstrates how the language works in what is probably the earliest Gospel. By asking what this title might have meant to Mark’s readership, she explores how the idea grew in the early Christian communities. Read and discuss her arguments. 7. What problems arise when a minority group begins to admit outsiders as members? How does this help to understand the situation of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) or the debate in Jerusalem (Acts 15), or Paul in his missionary journeys to Greece and Asia Minor (Acts 13:4 - 14:26, Acts 15:36 - 18:22, Acts 18:22 - 21:17), as Gentiles begin to join a predominantly Jewish movement? What is the impact on the early Jesus Movement? How does the early Church decide this matter of inside and outside, identity and difference? 8. In his paper “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm” (on Canvas), K. Harper writes, “[Porneia] is the lexical and ideological cornerstone of Christian sexual morality. It lies at the heart of the Pauline model of Christian sexuality. Yet, remarkably, its meaning has remained elusive for modern interpreters” (p.364). An understanding of the human situation is fundamental for the religious claims of Christianity, and a basic part of human nature is sexual. It should come as no surprise that sexual ethics is important to early Christian communities. Greco-Roman sexual norms were rooted in social structures that determined the status of women and men. As Christian communities developed radically competing social structures, their norms (sexual and otherwise) changed, and often put them at odds with the larger society. Harper examines how the understanding of the concept “porneia” developed in the pagan world, in Greek-speaking Second Temple Judaism, and in early Christianity, along the way covering the status of women in the Greco-Roman world and the early churches and the way in which sexual norms become ways of navigating old and new identities. Read and discuss his arguments. 9. People are often surprised to learn that there is almost nothing at all in the New Testment (or the Old, for that matter) about hell. Eternal punishment was not a preoccupation of the early Christian communities, judging by their writings. Paul’s concerns are almost exclusively for those who are “in Christ”, to use his favorite term, not those who are not. And the Revelation’s visions are for the most part aimed at the rule of Rome as a temporal stand-in for the forces of evil and oppression, and a judgment of Satan as a cosmic recapitulation of the beauty of the original creation, not a lurid meditation on the punishment of the unrepentant. So how did the idea develop? In “The Origins of Christian Hell” (on Canvas) D. Kyrtatas explores the growth of the concept in Christian thought by comparing the scant New Testament material concerning hell with a later very popular apocryphal text The Apocalypse of Peter. The New Testament speaks consistently, if cryptically, of “eternal death”, whereas Apoc. Peter dwells on “eternal punishment”, and the idea seems to have stuck (and culminated in Dante!) Somewhere in all this, the actual biblical concepts have fallen by the wayside. Kyrtatas goes so far as to write, “it is the Apoc. Pet., not the New Testament, which introduces us to what we have come to recognize as Christian hell” (p.299-89). Discuss. 10. The growth of Christianity from a persecuted minority of Jews in a troublesome corner of the Roman world to the reigning religious confession of the Empire within 400 years is one of the most astonishing stories in history. But the transition was never easy, never clear-cut, and hardly guaranteed. What did the Roman Empire look like as it moved from a pagan worldview to one whose rulers claimed allegiance to Christ? R. Lim explores this cultural shift in his essay “Christianization, Secularization, and the Transformation of Public Life” (on Canvas). Lim focuses primarily on the place of Roman blood sports such as gladiatorial contests and chariot racing in the mind of older pagans, newer Christians, and those caught between both worlds. Lim explains how the very notion of the “secular” is created by Christian thinkers trying to reconcile the continuation of Roman spectacles and the continuing Christianization of the wider Empire. Some rejected this completely, others tolerated it, and still others embraced it. Read and discuss his essay. Does it surprise you to learn that secularization is itself a product of Roman Christianity? Is this an example of unhealthy compartmentalization, a coping mechanism, or a wholesale sell-out – or something else entirely? 11. I discussed the image of the sea in the Revelation in class, but only a little. In “The Sea That is No More Rev 21:1 and the Function of Sea Imagery in the Apocalypse of John” (on Canvas), J. Moo offers a full accounting of the image of the sea in the Apocalypse and how it relates to the larger themes of the book. His essay is hardly a pedantic look at an obscure passage. The theme of the Revelation is the reign of Christ and the hope for the healing and restoration of the original creation; at stake is nothing less than the fate of the future in the Christian imagination. Moo’s essay uses the sea imagery in the book to develop these larger themes. His paper is an example of clear-headed scholarship with connections to many other topics in early Christianity which Moo doesn’t discuss; how does the crucified Jesus become the cosmic Christ in the early Christian imagination? What does it mean for a Roman subject to say “Jesus is Lord”? How do Gentile Christians, for whom the Old Testament has no cultural importance, adopt the Hebrew creation mythologies to explain their own hopes for the future in Christ? And what does the sea have to do with any of this? Discuss Moo’s arguments and findings. 12. One of the most difficult passages concerning women in the New Testament is 1 Timothy 2:11-15: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” Most scholars point out that these sorts of sentiments are foreign to Paul’s thought and characterize a later Christian community accommodating Roman social mores (there’s nothing in these verses a good Roman patrician would find problematic). But that still leaves open the bizarre claim that “women are saved through childbirth” – there is nothing in Jewish law, the Gospels, or Paul’s letters that points to such an odd idea. So where does it come from? In a tour de force of biblical interpretation, K. Waters argues in his essay “Saved through Childbearing: Virtues as Children in 1 Timothy 2:11-15” (on Canvas) that the passage is an extended allegory and that the original readers would have recognized it as such. The “children” are the theological virtues displayed by one who is in Christ. Waters’s essay is not about Pauline or non-Pauline authorship; his argument stands or falls no matter who wrote 1 Tim. Rather, his argument demonstrates how widespread the use of rhetorical strategies such as metaphor, allegory, and analogy was in early Christian writings, even canonical sources. Discuss. Eric Michael Dale, PhD Grading rubric for a writing assignment (updated 9 March 2020): Ideas Organization & Coherence Support Style Mechanics The A essay The B essay The C essay The D essay The F essay Excels in responding to the assignment. Interesting, creative, demonstrates sophistication of thought. Central idea/thesis clearly and accurately communicated and worth developing, limited enough to be manageable. Essay recognizes some complexity of its thesis: may acknowledge shortcomings, contradictions, qualifications, or limits and follows out their logical and rhetorical implications. Understands and critically evaluates its sources, limits and defines terms appropriately. A solid essay, responding appropriately to assignment. Clearly states a thesis/central idea, but may have minor lapses in development. Begins to acknowledge the complexity of central idea and the possibility of other points of view, but may fail to develop these insights. Shows careful reading of sources, but may not evaluate them critically. Attempts to define terms, not always successfully. Adequate but weaker and less effective, possibly responding less well to assignment. Presents central idea in general terms, often depending on platitudes or clichés. Presents a summary of basic themes rather than analysis of particular ideas. Usually does not acknowledge other views or counterarguments. Demonstrates basic comprehension of sources, perhaps with lapses in understanding. If it defines terms, it may depend on dictionary definitions. Does not have a clear central idea or does not respond appropriately to the assignment. Thesis may be too vague or obvious to be developed effectively. Essay may misunderstand sources. Essay may make basic and persistent factual errors. Does not respond to the assignment, lacks a thesis or central idea, and may neglect to use sources where necessary to explicate the ideas. Uses a logical structure that is appropriate to essay’s subject, purpose, audience, thesis, and disciplinary field. Employs sophisticated transitional sentences which often develop one idea from the previous one or identify their logical relations. It clearly guides the reader through the chain of reasoning or progression of ideas. Shows a logical progression of ideas and uses fairly sophisticated transitional devices; e.g., may move from least to more important idea. Some logical links may be faulty, but each paragraph clearly relates to essay’s central idea. May list ideas or arrange them randomly rather than using any evident logical structure. May use transitions, but they are likely to be sequential (first, second, third) rather than logicbased. While each paragraph may relate to central idea, logic is not always clear. Paragraphs have topic sentences but may be overly general, and arrangement of sentences within paragraphs may lack coherence. May have random organization, lacking internal paragraph coherence and using few or inappropriate transitions. Paragraphs may lack topic sentences or main ideas, or may be too general or too specific to be effective. Paragraphs may not all relate to essay’s thesis. No meaningful or appreciable organization; lacks transitions and coherence. Uses evidence appropriately and effectively, providing sufficient evidence and explanation to convince. Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of evidence, and offers clear reasons for which evidence is strongest, and why this evidence is compelling. Provides clear citations and uses quotes well. Begins to offer reasons to support its points, perhaps using varied kinds of evidence. Begins to interpret the evidence and explain connections between evidence and main ideas. Its examples bear some relevance. Usually provides adequate citations and good use of quotations. Often uses generalizations to support its points. May use examples, but they may be obvious or not relevant. Often depends on unsupported opinion or personal experience, or assumes that evidence speaks for itself and needs no application to the point under discussion. Often has lapses in logic, and incomplete citations with poorly used or explained quotations. Depends on clichés or overgeneralizations for support, or offers little evidence of any kind. May rely on personal narrative rather than evidencebased argument. Often fails to include appropriate citations: quotes are either absent or overly long. May rely on unargued stereotypes or popular assumptions instead of demonstrable, researched materials. Uses irrelevant details or lacks supporting evidence entirely. May be unduly brief. Usually fails to include appropriate citations. Chooses words for their precise meaning and uses an appropriate level of specificity. Sentence style fits essay’s audience and purpose. Sentences varied, clearly structured, and carefully focused. Generally uses words accurately and effectively, but may sometimes be too general. Sentences generally clear, wellstructured, and focused, though some may be awkward or ineffective Uses relatively vague and general words, may use some inappropriate language. Sentence structure is generally correct, but sentences may be wordy, unfocused, repetitive, or confusing. Style may be chatty, informal, conversational. May be too vague and abstract, or very personal and specific. Usually contains several awkward or ungrammatical sentences; sentence structure is simple or monotonous. Uses textspeak or nonstandard abbreviations and phrases to convey ideas. Usually contains many awkward sentences, misuses words, employs language inappropriate to academic research and present ...
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Running head: THE CONCEPT OF PORNEIA

Question 8: The Concept of Porneia
Student’s Name
Institutional Affiliation
Date

1

THE CONCEPT OF PORNEIA

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Introduction

Christian sexual morality has been subjected to numerous different interpretations,
mostly focussed on sexual ethics. Sexual ethics played a critical role in early Christian
communities. Kyle Harper waded into this debate and chose to direct his efforts towards
helping the masses understand the concept of "porneia." He argues that this concept formed
the backbone of the ideology Christians have embraced when it comes to morality (Harper,
2011). Paul embraced this concept and went ahead to involve it in his teachings directed at
Christians, specifically his statements towards the Corinthians. The concept of porneia has
undergone a couple of transformations since its inception in early Greek society.
The Concept of “Porneia”
The primary argument put forward by Harper is based on Paul's belief that porneia
encompassed illicit sexual activity between men involved in a marriage and women of
questionable moral and sexual inclinations (Harper, 2011). An exercise tolerated in the culture
embraced by the Greeks. He believes the current understanding Christians have adopted of this
concept can be traced back to Paul and Hellenistic Judaism (Harper, 2011). Harper takes the
position that porneia involved any sexual act that was consensual between a married man and
another woman for which no injury was occasioned (Harper, 2011). To him, the term
encompassed the modern interpretation of what fornication entails.
Classical Greece
Harper asserts that "sexual immorality" can still be dissected and understood without
losing its foundations, despite the change to its meaning that has been occasioned by the
affluence of time (Harper, 2011). According to him, Jews and the Greeks conceptualized
porneia differently from the current notions associated with the concept (Harper, 2011). He
then puts forward the argument that Hellenistic Judaism expanded the scope of the idea of
porneia incorporating new aspects they considered as sinful and contravening the society’s

THE CONCEPT OF PORNEIA

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moral inclinations (Harper, 2011). The concept was commonly utilized as a way of regulating
the sexual conduct of society by defining certain activities that fell under this concept and
prohibiting people from engaging in them (Harper, 2011).
In Greek society, engaging in any sexual activity with a "respectable woman" is
sufficient to consider such activity as part of porneia. Such a status, according to Harper, was
accorded to women who maintained their dignity until a particular stage when they were ready
to get married (Harper, 2011). However, when a person adopts similar conduct with women
situated in brothels and those in avenues selling their bodies, society did not take such behavior
as sexua...

Kalkaw (1937)
Duke University

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