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Strangers to Family
Diaspora and 1 Peter’s Invention of God’s Household
In Strangers to Family Shively Smith reads the Letter of 1 Peter through a new model of diaspora. Smith illuminates this peculiarly Petrine understanding of diaspora by situating it among three other select perspectives from extant Hellenist Jewish writings: the Daniel court tales, the Letter of Aristeas, and Philo’s works.
While 1 Peter tends to be taken as representative of how diaspora was understood in Hellenistic Jewish and early Christian circles, Smith demonstrates that 1 Peter actually reverses the most fundamental meaning of diaspora as conceived by its literary peers. Instead of connoting the scattering of a people with a common territorial origin, for 1 Peter, diaspora constitutes an “already-scattered-people” who share a common, communal, celestial destination.
Smith’s discovery of a distinctive instantiation of diaspora in 1 Peter capitalizes on her careful comparative historical, literary, and theological analysis of diaspora constructions found in Hellenistic Jewish writings. Her reading of 1 Peter thus challenges the use of the exile and wandering as master concepts to read 1 Peter, reconsiders the conceptual significance of diaspora in 1 Peter and in the entire New Testament canon, and liberates 1 Peter from being interpreted solely through the rubrics of either the stranger-homelessness model or household codes. First Peter does not recycle standard diasporic identity, but is, as Strangers to Family demonstrates, an epistle that represents the earliest Christian construction of diaspora as a way of life.
Part 1. Diaspora through the Lens of 1 Peter
Chapter 1. Chosen Kinship: Imagining Christian Diaspora
Chapter 2. The Cultic Life: Practices of the Christian Diaspora
Chapter 3. Provinces and Households: The Relational Matrix of the Christian Diaspora
Part 2. Diaspora the Way Others Imagine
Chapter 4. Diaspora Life in Babylon: The Court Tales of Daniel
Chapter 5. Diaspora in Egypt: The Letter of Aristeas
Chapter 6. Diaspora in Alexandria: Philo
Conclusion: Liberating 1 Peter’s Diaspora Vision
"In this stimulating study, Shively Smith examines the constructions of diaspora in 1 Peter as well as its presentation and negotiation in Daniel, Letter of Aristeas, and Philo. The result is a rich, multidimensional exploration of a versatile and elastic category of importance not only for reading these ancient texts but also for contemporary diaspora peoples."
—Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
"Shively Smith has made a wonderful contribution to the dialogue of 'diasporic thought' with Scripture by providing a careful reading of 1 Peter. Smith brings 1 Peter into dialogue with other ‘diasporic texts’ in late Second Temple Judaism (the Daniel Tales, Aristeas, and Philo) in ways that not only confirm many of her proposals, but also effectively highlight the crucial conceptual context of 1 Peter in the widespread debates and discussions about the Jewish condition in the late Second-Temple Period throughout the Near East. Smith's concluding reflections promise even more interesting work to come."
—Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University
"Shively Smith provides us with a careful and complex analysis of ‘diaspora thinking,’ using analytical categories from both ‘the ancients’ and contemporary scholarship. The text and context of 1 Peter has the primary place in this study, but today’s contexts and concerns are not neglected, with the concluding chapter providing significant resonances and resources for our increasingly ‘displaced’ world."
—Gerald O. West, Senior Professor in Biblical Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal
"This ambitious, clearly written book first focuses on an exegetical analysis of 1 Peter, then enriches our knowledge of this epistle by contextualizing it within concepts of diaspora found in Hellenistic and Roman Jewish literature. 1 Peter is seen as resistance literature that offers strategies for the development of a ‘double consciousness’ in a context of political and cultural threat—a double consciousness that is marked by time and space, by the temporariness of current diaspora, and by an awaiting of a heavenly home. By the end of Strangers to Family, the reader better understands how to read 1 Peter as evidence of complex resistance, of negotiations with structures of power, and of a Christian imagination that is rooted in diversity and difference."
—Laura Nasrallah, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Harvard Divinity School
"Near the end of her book, Shively Smith poses the provocative question of what she, as an African American woman, is doing giving an appreciative reading of 1 Peter—a letter that appears to endorse subordination and servitude. Smith offers a fresh, eye-opening interpretation of the letter in the context of Jewish diaspora existence. She argues that 1 Peter ‘constructs a double social reality,’ fostering a double consciousness that allows the creation and preservation of a strange new fellowship that transgresses social and cultural boundaries, while neither conforming fully to dominant norms nor openly rebelling against them. The letter is a ‘writing from the underclass for the underclass, not the overlord.’ Smith’s comparative sketches of the diaspora visions of Daniel, the Letter of Aristeas, and Philo bring the picture sharply into focus. Strangers to Family is necessary reading for everyone interested in the social history of early Christianity and Hellenistic Judaism, as well as for everyone interested in the theological interpretation of exile and diaspora in the New Testament."
—Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School
Shively T. J. Smith is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.