Brigitte Kahl brings to this insightful reading of Galatians a deep knowledge of the classical world and especially of Roman imperial ideology. The first wave of scholarship on the Roman imperial context of Paul's letters raised important questions that only thorough treatments of individual letters can answer. Kahl sets the letter to the Galatians in the context of Roman perceptions of vanquished peoples as represented in the Great Altar at Pergamum. Beginning with a perceptive discussion of the Great Altar, Kahl describes imperial representations of Roman power as well as the characteristics officially imputed to conquered peoples, including the "savage" Galatians (Gauls).
“What does the transformation of Pergamene images into Roman images show us that we have not yet been able to see about the world in which Paul and the Galatians lived? In other words, how can the images become a visual aid for deciphering the untold story behind the Galatian correspondence, those parts of the argument that were not said or written down because they were assumed and clearly understood within the world that Paul, the Galatians, and the Romans shared?” (Pages 129–130)
“Second: this book seeks to re-imagine the historical context in which Paul and the Galatians met, not as an end in itself but as an element of a comprehensive historical-critical rereading (relectura) of the letter that has been handed down through history as the material imprint of their encounter.” (Page 4)
“representation of Gauls/Galatians as prototypical barbarians, lawless and hostile others” (Page 25)
“When Paul declares that neither circumcision nor foreskin matters any longer because both circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Galatians belong to Abraham’s seed and stand under the authority of Israel’s God alone, that declaration smashes an icon of Roman law and order. And the Galatians’ foreskin, never before of any significance, all of a sudden, emerges as evidence of an illicit boundary transgression that claims for the God of the circumcised what lawfully belongs solely to the deified Caesar.” (Page 220)
“As it left the traditional plurality of polytheistic religions intact, it simultaneously impregnated them with a new logic and a new chief deity, Caesar, and thereby became a hybrid meta-religion of high flexibility and adaptability. It meticulously maintained the discourse of ‘traditional religion’ and showcased Caesar’s piety and submission to the gods, yet on the operational level it practiced a ‘functional monotheism’ with Caesar at its center.” (Page 165)
Brigitte Kahl is Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, New York. She received her Th.D. and Dr.Sc.Theol. from Humboldt University in Berlin and is an ordained minister of the Protestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg.