Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Response to John Mark Reynolds

John Reynolds wrote in his comments,

. .which body we now call the “head,” it being the most divine part and reigning over all the parts within us."

In Timaeus, Plato uses the literal head as a ruler or command center. This work was of major importance in the East in shaping religious and philosophical views. Not all works are equal . . . and Plato's influence and the particular influence of this work (Timaeus) was massive.

The soul, in Plato was considerably more complicated. Reason resided in the head, appetite in the belly and thumos (will, decision-making) in the lungs. To which part do you assign authority? Which part are you claiming compares with the role of man vis-s-vis woman?

Is it useful to suggest that this image of the head as "command centre" of the body, should influence our interpretation of scripture on marriage?

Please understand that, in any case, this does not immediately convince some of us the notion that "head" represents authority.

Reynolds re Cephalus,

Why was this character used? The Republic stresses his religious role (he leaves to make sacrifice) and his role as head of family (he hands on the argument to his son).

Again, since Plato uses "head" as an image of authority, this is a reasonable interpretation of what he wrote.

Cephalus was a retired arms dealer, not an image of religious authority. As a pious old man, he may well represent respect for the old ways, respect for the religious authorities. He left to offer a sacrifice. He was not a priest. How was this his "role?"

I now understand how you came to this way of thinking about authority, although I cannot find it persuasive. I can offer no evidence that Paul was influenced by either Plato or Aristotle, or that he was not.

My sense is that you are trying to show that kephale could possibly mean "authority over," while the Christians for Biblical Equality are at the same time trying to show that kephale could possibly mean "source."

I personally believe that kephale may mean one of many things, all pointing to the fact that there ought to be unity between men and women, and mutual respect for real differences, (not imaginary ones) and essential and functional equality between the sexes.

I see absolutely no reason to say that kephale must mean "authority," or that it must mean "source." If people do not see the meaning of "authority over" in the relationship of husband and wife, they should still be respected as Bible believing Christians.

We should move on to deal with the harm that is done in the Christian community. If people are damaged by one person in the marriage controlling or commanding the other, then we should deal with that. If people are hurt by abandonment and adultery, then we should deal with that.


The Shark said...

I am not sure we disagree.

The parts of the blog post to which you refer made one single claim. If you disagree with other parts, then you should discuss that with those people.

My entire argument is that one writer (a major one) used 'head' as an image or place of command or authority.

If you accept that then we are not really disagreeing. It is irrefutable (it seems to me) that Plato did so in Timaeus and highly plausible that he did so in Republic.

First, my argument is not about Paul, but about Plato's use of the term "head." You have done nothing to respond to plain textual evidence that Plato used "head" as the location of the command center for the soul in Timaeus.

I have made no arguments regarding Paul's use of the term.

Second, if we are discussing Plato, then your question,

"To which part do you assign authority? Which part are you claiming compares with the role of man vis-s-vis woman?" is an odd one.

I am not arguing for my position, but Plato's. Plato assigns authority to the head in Timaeus. I assume you are not disputing this. What this use means for Paul is for New Testament scholars to determine.

Let me stick to my own area:

Plato assigns authority to the head at 44D and all through Timaeus.

I assume you agree with this, since you do not take on the key passage for understanding Plato's use of the image of 'head' in at least this one dialogue.

We also agree (I assume) that Timaeus was of great importance in the ancient world. It was much greater than most single documents in terms of the references to it by major figures (such as Plotinus and Philo).

My own views on contemporary Christian issues had nothing to do with my point.

I believed exactly the same thing about Plato's use of "head" when I was a feminist. I am dealing with a narrow philosophic point and refuting a narrow argument.

I will leave it to others to weigh the importance to the Faith of the fact that one of the major writers of the pre-New Testament era used "head" this way and how should impact our reading of Scripture.

It was worth saying what I did, I think, because I often hear a wrong idea. Some people (not you as far as I can see) make the folk-scholarship claim that "head" was never a seat of authority in pre-New Testament Greek.

That is wrong. If you agree with that, then you had no complaint with my part of the post.

I have said nothing at all about "head" meaning "source" either for or against that reading.

Now for some fun !

Since Timaeus and Republic are linked at the very beginning of Timaeus, it is important to see what Plato might have meant in Republic Books VII, IX, and X when he talks about the 3 parts of the soul. There we see an image like that of Timaeus.

It is surely sensible then to note the use of "head-ish" name in Book I. From there the inability of Cephalus to pursue philosophy clues us in that he is demonstrating the very disordered state Plato attacks in Republic IX and Timaeus.

Your reading of Cephalus is I think roughly correct. He was a symbol of paternal authority (see his "giving the argument" over to his son) and the argument cannot continue until he leaves. The conversation is held back by the "bad head" who, thank the gods, leaves.

Cephalus is not merely traditional Athenian piety (there are problems with that reduction in his metic status), but rather the rich father who has harmed his sons (we see in VIII-X). It is his role as money maker and father that is stressed and that fits my general claims about Plato.

By "role" I mean his "role" in the drama of the Platonic dialogue. Everything you have said about Cephalus, is perfectly compatible with his representing the restraining authority of old religious ways.

He demonstrates his "authority" by giving over the argument.

In fact, several figures in the drama of the Republic have names that hint at their role.

If you are not persuaded by that, this is fine, since Timaeus makes the use of 'head' as authority in Plato plain.

Concluding Thoughts:

It does not seem to me we really disagree about Plato.

I do not see any reason to think "head" must ALWAYS mean "authority" since it means . . . "head." Images are tricky things in literature and my argument was not that every, most, or all images of head in all books were those of authority, just that Timaeus did use that way and (in my opinion) Republic does too.

I have no reason not to respect you as a believer. We disagree, but then that is the joy of the dialectic. Many good friends are feminists (I don't know your view) and I know them to be godly people.

You are also right that pastoral issues are more important. People are more important than ideas.

I was a feminist Christian and came to reject that approach. That does not mean I do not still understand its appeal or am arrogant enough to assume I am right beyond doubt!

I think the CBE position is seriously defective, but try to be open to follow the discussion where it leads.

Most of all, I want to know Him who is Truth. I am sure you agree.

My wife and I struggle to model the bloodless martyrdom of marriage and I at least often fail.

As a sinner, I am no great example of much of anything and my heart prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner."

I hope this dialog is always done fairly and with mutual respect.

The Shark said...

Just to clarify:

Having the wearying memory (!) of having to write for hundreds of pages on the tripartite soul on Plato in grad school (dealing with every psychological passage), I am all too clear that there are (at least!) two other parts to the soul in Timaeus.

The point is that in Timaeus Plato makes the "head" part the divine, immortal, reasonable, and commanding part. It is the part that should rule, even when it does not. The plainest expression of this is in 44d and following.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

John, (Do I say "John" or "the shark?")

My entire argument is that one writer (a major one) used 'head' as an image or place of command or authority.

My sense is that reason was in the head. I am not sure that reason is the same thing as authority in the NT. I am not sure that you and I agree on what "authority" is in the NT.

I also feel you are over constructing an idea of "authority" for Cephalus, but obviously we agree on some of the basic facts. I just don't see that the concept "authority" is present.

However, obviously both of us wish to be a bit more nuanced than claiming a strict proof of one and not the other.

My major concern here is that you bring into the discussion of headship, support for the notion that the "head" is "reason" or "religious authority" or "command centre". Do you really think this is useful in relation to the husband's role in marriage?

You comment on having been a feminist? Have you also repented of a life of mutual submission? I am not being sarcastic.

Maybe you would be interested in reading this post of mine, to get a better idea of what this blog is about.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

immortal, reasonable, and commanding part.

And how does this relate to a man being the head of woman? I am simply at sea here - completely at sea. I must say you are an original!

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am a feminist in that I believe that women should have equal rights. I don't know why someone would give up that belief.

The Shark said...

Thank you for writing back.

Plato makes it clear that the "head" is not just a center for reason but should rule the rest of the soul and the body.

See 44d in Timaeus. As in Republic, the seat of reason should rule. This is why philosophers should be king . . . and a failure to let reason rule or be in charge is enough to send you on a bad journey.

What does this have to do with man being the head of a woman in Paul?

It makes only one small point.

It shows that the image of "head" was not just foisted on the text by later patriarchal readers. It was in the air at the time of Paul. We know that because Plato used it and Plato was still a Big Deal at the time of Paul . . . especially the dialogue where we both agree (Timaeus) he made "head" and image of authority.

I really, really have not said one single thing about reason or authority in the NT. Some people reading the NT seem to believe (I am not saying you) taht the NT cannot mean "authority" when it uses the image of head. (I know some people think it must mean that, but I am not commenting on that position at all here.)

The people who think the Greek scope of meaning CANNOT include the image of head as authority are just wrong. Plato uses it that way in the Timaeus and (maybe) Republic. If we disagree about Republic it is pretty unimportant, since Timaeus spells it out.

As to implications for Paul: I would be most unhappy if we just imported everything Plato believed into Christianity. IF (if, if, if) Paul is using headship within the range of meaning Plato gave him, then he is modifying it in important ways having to do with his Jewish (as well as Roman) roots.

Making one small point does not get you the whole position, it just takes you one logical step on the road!

I will comment this once (breaking my sabbatical rule) on my personal beliefs since you asked.

I have not repented of a life of mutual submission, since mutual submission is good.

However, within that mutual submision, I function as the spiritual head of the house . . . a role of authority. I hated this role, and still would not pick it based on my initial impulse, but my beloved did not agree with my feminist views and refused to cooperate with my egalitarian ideas.

Based on reason, argument, Scripture, and best experience, she persuaded me. I came to think at least certain sorts of feminism wrong-headed.

I am all in favor of equal rights so far as they go, but love (I think)knows little or nothing of "rights" talk. To steal from Dante, the great dance is real.

I think the icon God would have us write in marriage is an image that says nothing about inferiority. Submission, headship, and the play of marriage is a role that we perform in marriage that reflects the marriage of Paradise.

However, this is your forum and we are not going to agree on this. This is just a bit of my heart so you can know where I am coming from.

Given my writing load, I just don't have time to defend my view on Christian marriage and my reading of Paul (which is not my area of specialization any way).

None of it had the least to do with my textual argument about the meaning of "head" in ancient Greek since I believed exactly the same when I was an egalitarian.

Pardon the nickname . . . I got it as a post-doc and it stuck!

Just out of curiosity:

Where was your work in Plato?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Toronto. I studied Greek in high school for 3 years and then at U. of T. for 3 years, switching to Near Eastern Studies.

I tried to email but it failed. Could you find my email in my profile and email me.

Did you read my story?