Historical reconstructions concerning Philemon consistently illustrate an overwhelming tendency to see Paul as operating with the most innocuous and transparent of motives. In contrast, my (mildly playful) reading of Philemon posits a Paul engaged in power negotiations with his addressee. Though Philemon acts as Paul's would-be patron, Paul resists the gesture and opts instead to assign Philemon a carefully proscribed role vis-à-vis himself. Paul relies on rhetorical techniques of tact to coerce Philemon to adopt this role ‘voluntarily’. Onesimus emerges, then, as a pawn in a negotiation for power and status in the community.
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