Friday, May 2, 2008

Paul's day job - skenopoios

From L.L. Welborn:

Readers of the revised article on σκηνοποιός in [Danker] will make the surprizing discovery that the traditional understanding of the term used to describe Paul's occupation in Acts 18.3 as 'tentmaker' is wholly without lexical support outside the Bible and literature that the Bible has influenced, and futhermore is undermined by a variety of practical considerations.* Instead, Danker proposes the meaning of 'maker of stage properties', appealing to Pollux, who explains that the word is a synonym for μηχανοπιός, which is either a 'stagehand' who moves stage properties or a 'manufacturer of stage properties.'* Danker concludes: 'In the absence of any use of the term σκηνοποιός beyond the passages in Pollux and the Hermetic Writings, and the lack of specific qualifiers in the text of Acts 18.3, one is left with the strong probability that Luke's publics in urban areas, where theatrical productions were in abundance, would think of σκηνοποιός in reference to matters theatrical.'* If the report of Paul's occupation in Acts 18.3 is historically reliable, then Paul was a 'prop maker'. This would go far to explain the number, specificity, and richness of Pauline metaphors drawn from the world of the theater and amphitheater (e.g. 2 Cor. 11.1-2-12.10; Phil. 3.12-4.3, etc.)*

—L.L. Welborn, Paul, the fool of Christ: a study of 1 Corinthians 1-4 in the comic-philosophic tradition, p.11,12


J. K. Gayle said...

Does L.L. Welborn way overstate this? At least he tells us he gets his idea from F.W. Danker, who gets his idea from the Onomasticon of Julius Pollux who comes a century after Paul and Luke. Around the Greek theatre, I see μουσοποιὸς and παιδοποιὸς (in Euripides); δολοποιὸς, ψηφοποιὸς, and οἰκοποιός (in Sophocles); λυχνοποιὸς, μαχαιροποιός, μηχανοποιός, and τραγῳδοποιός (in Aristophanes); γελωτοποιὸς (in Xenophon); κωμῳδοποιὸς, ἀγαλματοποιός, δευσοποιὸς, θησαυροποιὸς, κλινοποιός, τραγῳδοποιός, and ὀψοποιός (in Plato); and λυροποιός, ἀνδριαντοποιός, εἰκονοποιός, αὐλοποιὸς, πολεμοποιὸς, θαυματοποιὸς, ἠθοποιὸς, and δυοποιός (in Aristotle)--all long before Paul.

And this shows widespread and neologistic, not restrictive, uses of *-οποιός. And the playwrights mentioned above (of course), and the prose writers (Plato and Aristotle), but Thucydides also, very prolifically write of τὰ μηχανωμένους (the theatre)--and none of them, as far as extant electronically-searchable texts show us--even hints that σκηνοποιός is a synonym for μηχανοπιός.

Thucydides does write "σκηνὴν ποιήσαντες" in Book 2 chapter 34 section 2 line 2 of his History. Richard Crawley, translating Thucydides here, says it's "a tent which has been erected," and it might even be "a tent that's been made."

So what is clear is that Thucydides is using the longer phrase the way Luke does of Paul and coworkers, with his shorter phrase: σκηνοποιοὶ. And English Bible translators up to L.L. Welborn's statement have gotten it right by saying it's "tentmakers" (and nothing, really, related to the theatre).

Nathan said...

Thanks for the helpful lexical critique of Wellborn. I thought his contention seemed a little speculative, if not necessarily implausible. Note some skeptical reviews linked at the Google Books page (click on the title at the end of the entry)--though none of them, I don't think, provides this level of lexical analysis.

Nihil Obstat said...

Wow, this is blast from the past! I recently did some study of this. And σκηνὴν ποιήσαντες in the military cases (and others) does not refer to a τέχνη, rather to a common task of setting up tents. So, we come back to the use of σκηνοποιός as a kind of scenographer. Interestingly, the Latin scaena facio means is restricted to scene painting and scene making. These skills were not only used in the stage world but also in domestic space. Mural painting—all the rage in the Greco-Roman world from 100 BCE to 100 CE—was theatrical scene decoration brought into the domestic space. We have to remember that Pollux is giving an old usage of the word. And, recognizing this as an art (as opposed to a very common practice for soldiers and others who live in precarious, temporary situations) tips the scales for me. Also, the portrayal of Paul as someone who had access as a client to "friends" like the Asiarchs, who, in Acts 19 attempt to save his life by timely advice, points to an urban techne which brought him into contact for significant periods of time. Furthermore, my old prof., David Balch points out the Pausanius was very complimentary of the painted public and domestic spaces in Corinth as he made his journey in the Greek east. Unfortunately we do not see the colorful art that was part and parcel of daily life.