Cambridge University Press
Harvard Theological Review
Scholarship on Phil 2:6–11 has long wrestled with the question of “interpretive staging.” While acknowledging that Jewish sapiential and apocalyptic literature as well as Roman apotheosis narratives provide important matrices for the hymn, the following study pinpoints a third backdrop against which Paul's dramatic christology would have been heard in Philippi: Euripidean tragedy. Echoes of Dionysus's opening monologue from Euripides's Bacchae in the carmen Christi suggest that Roman hearers of Paul's letter likely understood Christ's kenotic metamorphosis as a species of Dionysian revelation. This interpretive recognition accomplishes a new integration of the hymn's Jewish and imperial-cultic transcripts. Jesus's Bacchic portraiture supports a theology of Christ's pre-existence, while simultaneously establishing him as a Dionysian antithesis to the imperial Apollonian kyrios Caesar. These Dionysian echoes also elevate the status of slaves and women, and suggest that “the tragic” remains modally present within the otherwise comic fabula of the Christ myth.