"By the Power of Signs and Wonders": Paul, Divinatory Practices, and Symbolic Capital

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"By the Power of Signs and Wonders": Paul, Divinatory Practices, and Symbolic Capital
Eyl, Jennifer T (creator)
Stowers, Stanley (Director)
Kraemer, Ross (Reader)
Harvey, Susan (Reader)
Brown University. Religious Studies (sponsor)
Copyright Date
This dissertation is largely a project of redescription and taxonomy. In it, I redescribe, reclassify, and recontextualize the divinatory practices of the apostle Paul. Throughout his letters, he frequently makes reference to signs and wonders (sēmeia kai terata)—a phrase he borrows from the Greek translation of his Sacred Scriptures. For Paul, these signs and wonders include a panoply of things such as glossolalia, prophecy, claims to theophanic visions, miracle healings, demonstrations of the pneuma of God/theos, and other unnamed “mighty works” (dunameis). The scholarly treatment of these practices in Paul’s letters has been threefold: 1) to simply overlook his claims to divinatory expertise and wonderworking, 2) to argue that Paul’s engagement with such practices is extraneous to the larger scheme of his teaching, or 3) to argue that Paul reluctantly stoops to the level of divinatory tricks in order to sway those of his listeners who have been seduced by the wonderworking powers of his competitors. I argue that such practices are, in fact, central to Paul’s self-understanding as a religious figure, and that his expertise in the arena of divination legitimates his religious-intellectualist message. Furthermore, I argue that scholarly resistance to understanding Paul in these terms stems from a basic misunderstanding about the nature of religious practices in the ancient Mediterranean; these practices are, in fact, central to ancient religiosity and Paul is no exception. While tackling the taxonomy of ancient divinatory practices, I investigate how Paul’s demonstration of such expertise provides a source of symbolic capital as he competes against other first century cults, state-sponsored religious officials, and immediate rivals whom he calls “super apostles.” My theoretical approach is informed by Pierre Bourdieu’s work on different sources of capital, as well as from practice theory.
divinatory practices
apostle paul
ancient christianity
mediterranean religions
wonder workers
roman religions
practice theory
Miracle workers
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2012)
vii, 211 p.


Eyl, Jennifer T., "'By the Power of Signs and Wonders': Paul, Divinatory Practices, and Symbolic Capital" (2012). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z0R78CJ2