a book review by Julie Pohlman
“Paul is second to Jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity, yet he is not universally well regarded…..”. So begins the book by Marcus Borg and John Crossan, two well respected, progressive religious scholars. They begin by uncovering three different Pauls. The first Paul is the Paul struck down and blinded by a vision on the road to Damascus, the Paul described as a Jewish mystic. This Paul is thought to be the writer of First Thessalonians, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Romans, and is termed the Radical Paul. The other six New Testament books attributed to “Paul” were believed to be written by two other different people. There is the Conservative Paul, the Paul whose writings imply that that Paul was of the belief that women should be silent in the church and slavery was ordained by God. Thirdly, there is the Reactionary Paul, the Paul who is believed to have written the books to Timothy and Titus. This Paul states female leadership should be forbidden, and slaves are to be completely submissive to their masters. Borg and Crossan point out that at that time in history, it was not unusual to write in the name of a philosopher/religious of whom one was a follower, which makes the understanding of who was Paul quite confusing to people of our time.
The writers then proceed to explain how the theory of these multiple Pauls has been determined. They discuss writing styles. They reference back to earliest writings and to the Old Testament. They look at writings by non-Christian writers and historians of the time. It’s rather amazing how much more modern historians and theologians have uncovered about the past using modern techniques and newly discovered ancient manuscripts. As The First Paul unfolds, we learn about the relationship of the Roman Empire to the threatening teachings of Paul, and why, ultimately, Paul, a Roman citizen, is killed by the empire.
The First Paul is an enlightening and scholarly book. It can be found in the Bible Commentaries section of the library.