PSCO Presentation: 23 September, 2010

“Purity of Language”

Dale Martin (Yale University)


Raising the recent controversies over the anachronism or appropriateness of terms such as Judaism, Christianity, and even religion, Prof. Martin will consider these controversies in the context of the larger theoretical problem of language and meaning, criticizing a "correspondence theory" and pushing for a poststructuralist and pragmatist theory, along the lines of Wittgenstein and postmodern pragmatists influenced by him. Different groups of words will be listed and considered -- including terms so problematic that one should avoid them; those that are problematic but still needed; those that are problematic and anachronistic but which may be useful for precisely that reason; some that people don't want to use anymore but that may still be helpful or needed; etc. Even though debates and questions of this sort will never be "settled" because of the way language works, it will be suggested that scholars of ancient Judaism and Christianity can be more aware and self-conscious, and thus sophisticated, about the terms, the issues, and the philosophical assumptions being made.


Dale B. Martin is Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. Prof. Martin specializes in New Testament and Christian Origins, including attention to social and cultural history of the Greco-Roman world. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1999, he taught at Rhodes College and Duke University. His books include: Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity; The Corinthian Body; Inventing Superstition: from the Hippocratics to the Christians; Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation; and Pedagogy of the Bible: an Analysis and Proposal. He has edited several books, including (with Patricia Cox Miller), The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography. He was an associate editor for the revision and expansion of the Encyclopedia of Religion, published in 2005. He has published several articles on topics related to the ancient family, gender and sexuality in the ancient world, and ideology of modern biblical scholarship, including titles such as: "Contradictions of Masculinity: Ascetic Inseminators and Menstruating Men in Greco-Roman Culture." He currently is working on issues in biblical interpretation, social history and religion in the Greco-Roman, and sexual ethics. He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), the Lilly Foundation, the Fulbright Commission (USA-Denmark), and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.

Meeting and Dining

All are welcome! Those wishing to dine together before the seminar will meet at 6:00 pm in the Cohen Hall Second-Floor Lounge to go next door to the food court in Houston Hall.

Suggested Reading

Steve Mason, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457-512

Brent Nongbri, “Dislodging ‘Embedded’ Religion: A Brief Note on a Scholarly Trope,” Numen 55 (2008) 440–460.

PDF copies of these articles are available on request.