Negotiating Desire: Epicurean, Diaspora Jewish, and Pauline Traditions on Idol Food in 1 Corinthians 8–10

This paper analyzes the way Paul tries to negotiate a rigid Diaspora Jewish stance against eidolothuton (particularly found in 4 Maccabees and Philo) with Epicurean teachings (from Philodemus and Lucretius) on the permissibility of participating in idol feasts. Even though Epicurus himself taught that the gods (if they exist) would not participate in the feasting, they nevertheless should be honored not out of fear of punishment nor in hopes of receiving divine favors, but because of their imperturbability (ataraxia). Paul, however, does not situate his concern over idol food exclusively within religious discourse but also sees it as an ethical concern. Epicurean teachings on the natural and unnecessary desires provide a point of contact with Paul's admonitions for the Corinthians to disengage with cultic feasting. The goal of the study is to move beyond a strict comparison between Paul and Diaspora Judaism, or between Paul and Hellenistic traditions, but to read the issue of idol food across multiple cultural domains and see how Paul's understanding of the law of Christ (9:21) or imitatio Christi (11:1) informs his discourse on two traditions that are in competition at Corinth concerning eidolothuton.