Bodies Out of Place: Identity, Race, and Space in Hebrews

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). Paul’s chastisement of the Galatians is harsh and also problematic, given that the Galatians did not see Christ crucified. Some interpreters of this text have suggested that Paul’s teaching made the crucifixion so real, so alive that it was as if they had witnessed it. If indeed this was the case, the effectiveness of Paul’s teaching was being challenged by opponents and seemingly ignored or forgotten by the Galatians. What the Galatians did likely see were images of emperors, perhaps other Roman imperial officers gazing down on their streets. They may have also been eyewitnesses to other crucifixions, public displays of torture and humiliation, other heinous acts of imperial violence. What they did clearly see were images of themselves portrayed as defeated and captured subjects of the empire. As Carlin Barton suggests, “If Being, for the ancient Romans, was being seen, being seen was a basic existential risk.” The question, then becomes, what exactly was it that the Paul wanted his Galatian audience be? Our current age is similarly a visually stimulated one. Visual education is a prominent didactic method, meaning, one learns through what one sees. What are we to learn when we are bombarded with images of violence perpetuated against black bodies? The affective results of such images are not my primary concern. Instead, I seek to understand what I am expected to learn or perhaps even become as a result of seeing repeated instances of racial violence. Drawing on critical race theory, social and literary theory, and scholarship on early Christian identity formation, I will argue that the evocation of the images of these bodies is employed to construct identities both in antiquity and in our contemporary moment. Using the images of black bodies in America as a heuristic tool, I will demonstrate how the bodies in Galatians (seen and unseen) signify suffering and alienation while at the same time denoting a people of hope and empowerment.