Saturday, April 19, 2014


Review of SUBVERSIVE MEALS by Naum Trifanoff:

The best book I've read in 2014 to date ("but you say that about every good book you read!" :))

Scholarly gaze into the Roman banquet practice and cultural milieu that permeated the practice and how the early Christians/church flipped it upside down. But first, the author explores Roman culture and how those that separate church and state in Scripture error by imposing a modernist imprint upon that age -- a time when everything was *political* and the one of the *political* of customs was sharing a meal together -- from who was invited, to seating arrangements, to the benedictions and libations offered to political overlords (with "Lord Caesar" arched above all), favor exchanges and reciprocity driven status seekers.

Then, the Christian practice of "communion service" is studied -- where Christians ape the Roman practice, with the deipnon (sharing of a meal similar to a potluck today), then the symposium (a time of worship, prayer, ministry, thoughtful discussion) with libation and bread/drink offered up in remembrance of Jesus. But the Christian practice was a "subversive" twist on the Roman custom -- fellowship (koinonia), friendship (philia) and equality (isonomia), preached by Paul in NT was the model -- male, female, master, slave, Jew, Gentile, all equals at the table, and believers urged to kill their egos, and serve each other.

The penultimate chapter is ostensibly about prophecy, but I discovered the bits (author covers some bible passages from Acts, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Revelation) about 1 Cor 13, sandwiched (pun!) between 1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14 awe inducing in that I'll never be able to hear 1 Cor 13 (the famous "love" passage) again without seeing what the author reveals -- the moorings to Christian banquet, and conduct of Christians to self-sacrifice -- Between his treatment of the superiority of love (vv. 1–3) and the temporality of gifts (vv. 8–13), Paul lists the attributes of love, which serve as the antithesis of the way the Corinthians have behaved at mealtime. The manifestation of these virtues during the symposium will assure civility, and serve to regulate the gifts for the benefit of all. Love acts as a template against which the Corinthians can judge their behavior during the second course of the dinner.

The book ends on a question: How should an understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the first century impact communion services in the twenty-first century? -- It makes the whole cracker waer and thimble of grape juice look so silly. But then these times aren't those times either, and to sit down at a meal just doesn't carry the same gravitas it once did (we're such a drive-through culture). Or does it? That debate and/or answer is not entertained in the book, however.

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