Royal Runaways: A Theological Analysis of Love's Kenotic Power
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Gregg, Ryan John
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CitationGregg, Ryan John. 2021. Royal Runaways: A Theological Analysis of Love's Kenotic Power. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis study in biblical theology proceeds from a basic curiosity: why do the foundational literature of many religions, Jewish and Christian ones in particular, enshrine stories of highborn individuals who (for one reason or another) are alienated from their inherited context of privilege, endure prolonged seasons of suffering and obscurity, and eventually return to assume a mantle of leadership equal to or greater than the one to which they were entitled by birth? I think of these figures as “Royal Runaways,” and in this dissertation ask what wisdom is conveyed through variations on their similarly-shaped biographies, and specifically, what such narratives communicate about the nature of (royal) power, self-sacrifice, and love. While such questions may be approached through a variety of disciplines and literatures—and this project is indeed interdisciplinary—I focus primarily on biblical and theological materials.
After an introductory chapter dealing with theoretical issues (narrative theory, myths and heroes, problematics of “authority,” comparative and canonical reading, etc.), “Chapter 2: Mosaics of Israel” begins the exegetical core of the project by studying the biblical account of Moses’ early life as an Egyptian prince and an exile in Midian, comparing it with a handful of ancient Near Eastern (Sargon) and Israelite (Adam, Joseph, David, etc.) parallels, as well as several Second Temple portraits of Moses (Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, Midrashim, etc.). The Royal Runaway pattern is observed of a privileged upbringing, subsequent rejection, prolonged exile, and eventual exaltation, leading to the conclusion that obedience and suffering are not at odds with the biblical model of royalty, but intrinsic to it.
“Chapter 3: A Runaway God? Christian Kenotic Theology and Its Narrative Sources in the Hebrew Bible” brings the foregoing exegesis into dialogue with the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2:6–11. This poetic account of Jesus emptying himself (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν, the origin of the term kenosis), becoming obedient unto death, and eventually being exalted by God is shown to correspond typologically with several Royal Runaway narratives in the Hebrew Bible. While study of the Carmen typically focuses on its Adamic and Isaianic imagery, I argue that this is only the beginning of its intertextual matrix since the Hebrew Bible regularly showcases the humble, self-denying nature of royalty. The New Testament takes the innovative yet relatively simple step of transposing this insight into the identity of Israel’s divine King.
“Chapter 4: From the Love of Power to the Power of Love” discusses the transition in the chapter’s title, which on a Christian reading I take to be central to the narrative and theological appeal of the Royal Runaway paradigm. “Love” and “power” being huge and contested topics, I locate my discussion in the work of three thinkers, two Jewish and one Christian, exploring various ways that Royal Runaway stories frame love, power, and even God in terms of willing self-gift.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368300
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