The Polluted Body: Dale B. Martin

This post is part of our ongoing series on Head Coverings in Corinth.

Our third perspective on Head Coverings in Corinth comes from Dale B. Martin in his work The Corinthian Body, which examines the constructions of body and sexuality within Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Here we will examine the contextual concerns Martin argues are important for interpreting First Corinthians 11.2-16, his interpretation of the passage on ‘head coverings,’ and his understanding of the Pauline conception of body. Ultimately, we find that Martin argues that Paul understands the body to be a potentially polluted agent.

Dale B. MartinMartin’s perspective is unique in that he pays little attention to more traditional historical-critical resources in his construction of the Corinthian context. He argues that Paul conceived of Corinth as one of his most important operational locals as he propagated his message about Jesus of Nazareth and that because of this centrality Paul paid special attention to the competing ideologies of the human body within the Corinthian congregation.[1] Key for Martin’s reading of First Corinthians is his argument that the numerous conflicts between the Corinthian Strong and Corinthian Weak stemmed from their differing conceptions of the normative human body. Within this framework, Martin understands Paul, along with the majority of the Corinthian Christians, to have viewed the body as being threatened by polluting agents, while a minority of Corinthians elites emphasized a hierarchical balance in the arrangement of the body without Paul’s concerning for bodily boundaries and pollution.[2] The divide between Strong and Weak encompassed socioeconomic status,[3] though Martin argues that a more important contextual concern were ancient discourses about the body driven by ideological constructions viewing the human body in certain ways due to societal influences and interests.[4] Martin argues that for ancients, the body was a microcosm of the universe,[5] perceived as a transitory point in the midst of cosmic movement,[6] within the hierarchical structure of Roman society.[7] Hierarchy was similarly formative with respect to the construction of sexuality, as all humans were understood along the lines of the spectrums of active/male and passive/female.[8] Setting Paul’s writing firmly within the tradition of Greco-Roman rhetoric,[9] Martin argues that Paul rejected the higher status Corinthians denigrating lower status Corinthians because of their lack of gnosis,[10] as he understands Paul to reverse normal power and hierarchy structures within the church whilst simultaneously affirming communal boundaries between the body and corrupt cosmos, especially concerning issues divided along social status lines.[11] Ultimately, Martin divides Paul’s concerns in First Corinthians into two major topical sections, those concerned with hierarchy and those concerned with pollution, situating Paul’s discourse on head coverings that we now turn to within his consideration of bodily pollution.[12] Continue reading