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5 - Signs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 June 2023

Matthew Sharp
Affiliation:
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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Summary

The basic unit of divination is the sign, “something that represents something else,” which is then “taken as the basis for a process of inference.”This is most obvious for so-called artificial means of divination, in which the flight of a bird or the shape of a liver represents success in battle or something similar, but it also applies to inspired visions and prophecy. Anne Marie Kitz breaks down the process of divination in general into three defining characteristics: first, the divine manipulation of earthly material (ranging from stones used for lot-casting to animals to human mediums), second, the sign (the way the lots fall, the particular flight of the birds, the vision seen or the words uttered in prophecy), and third, the interpretation of the sign.This is a useful model with which to see the structural similarities across different methods of divination and highlights how, in all methods, there remains a sign that needs to be interpreted. This is no less true for visions or prophecy than it is for the interpretation of texts.

In each of the preceding chapters, I have shown how these various forms of divination either interact with signs in the external world, or can themselves function as signs that need interpreting. In this chapter, I turn more focused attention to signs and omens in Paul’s letters, those things in the world from which he draws inferences about divine activity and disposition. The first half of the chapter will survey the various ways signs could be interpreted in the ancient world and how Paul’s appeals to signs and omens fit within this context. The second half will be devoted to analysing the role of divine signs in Rom 1–3. These opening chapters of Romans show a sustained engagement with the question of how certain things have been revealed, and also contain what many scholars have taken to be Paul’s central and defining comments on the topic of “revelation.”

Interpreting Signs and Omens

Varieties of Signs and Interpretations

A great variety of things could be read as signs, and different signs could be interpreted with various levels of sophistication. On the one hand, certain objects acquired, through convention, specific semiotic value, such as the flight of birds, or the liver or entrails of an animal.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • Signs
  • Matthew Sharp, University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Book: Divination and Philosophy in the Letters of Paul
  • Online publication: 02 June 2023
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  • Signs
  • Matthew Sharp, University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Book: Divination and Philosophy in the Letters of Paul
  • Online publication: 02 June 2023
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Signs
  • Matthew Sharp, University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Book: Divination and Philosophy in the Letters of Paul
  • Online publication: 02 June 2023
Available formats
×