Contesting Language(s): Heteroglossia and the Politics of Language in the Corinthian Church
In this dissertation, I look into the issue of the politics of language in the early Christian movement through reception analysis, contextual-theoretical analysis, socio-historical analysis, and exegetical analysis. The focus of attention is given to the phenomenon of speaking in tongue(s) particularly in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. There are two major way of interpretations that have been developed over the course of the history of interpretation: missionary-expansionist and romantic-nationalist modes of reading. The missionary-expansionist mode of reading gave rise to the idea that tongue(s) is a miraculous ability to speak in foreign language. Beginning from the late eighteenth century, German scholars introduced the romantic-nationalist mode of reading that has resulted in interpretation of the phenomenon of speaking in tongue(s) as an explosion of human feeling. Instead of interpreting the phenomenon of speaking in tongue(s) from a romantic-nationalist mode of reading, by going back to an Indonesian conception of language as a social performance I suggest an alternative way in conversation with Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia and the social context of immigrants in the United States. The alternative mode of reading proposed in this dissertation is, thus, a heteroglossic-immigrant one. Within this framework, I propose that the city of Corinth in the Roman period was a multilingual space by presenting some evidence for the possibility of the existence of many languages underneath the dominance of Latin and Greek. This larger social context would have had a direct consequence on the sociolinguistic make-up of early Christian believers in Corinth to whom Paul wrote his letter. Because early Christians came from a diverse linguistic background, I demonstrate that language became an inevitable site of political struggle for them. The indicator of such struggle appears in how they dealt with the issue of tongue(s), namely as a heteroglossic phenomenon. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 14 represents a discursive force of language unification through silencing minority language speakers. Although tongue(s) speakers have been cast as trouble-makers in the Corinthian church, this dissertation reimagines the existence of tongues as a resistance against and disruption of the force of the unified dominant language.