Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Travis Proctor: Eating at the ‘Table of Demons’: Hellenic Sacrifice and the Demonic Corruption of Christian Ritual Bodies (WS)

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he implores his audience that they not mix the “body of the Lord” with the “table of demons” by participating in both the Christian Eucharist and traditional Hellenic animal sacrifices. Paul’s statement itself, which draws on a long line of Jewish condemnations of non-Jewish sacrifice, implies that demons possessed some form of body that benefited from the meat offerings of animal sacrifice. Later interpreters of 1 Corinthians make this even more explicit by reading Paul’s rhetoric in light of wider Hellenic traditions regarding demonic consumption of sacrificial “vapors.” My paper explores the way in which this discourse of demonic corporeality and consumption functioned to demarcate proper and improper Christian ritual praxis, and, in doing so, crafted a particular construal of Christian ritual bodies. I note how Origen of Alexandria, for example, cites 1 Corinthians as support for his assertion that the bodies of demons were “fattened” by their intake of the fumes rising from animal sacrifice, a claim which accompanies his contention that participation in such sacrifices would attract demonic cohabitation. Such demonic corruption, moreover, disqualified Christians from participating in the Eucharist, as they would inevitably pollute the body of the Lord with the bodies of demons. Paul and his interpreters’ discourse of demonic corporeality, then, serves to demarcate the borders between “pagan” and “Christian” bodies, a boundary reified by the repeated ritual performance of the Christian Eucharist.

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