Monday, February 15, 2010

A Fascinating New Book Placing Paul in Context Among the Cultures of His Time

Received a review copy of Paul Among the People on Thursday before leaving for the Beyond Cana retreat and couldn't quite grasp what it was about.

I took it and found it it both easy to understand (essential for my evening reading when helping with a retreat) and fascinating. Sarah Ruden goes to great pains to put St. Paul's writings in the context of Paul's "modern times" of Greek and Roman culture so we can see just what cultural forces he was referring to when he wrote his letters. By juxtaposing her knowledge of those cultures (which were considerably cruder and more hostile to Christian religious concepts than we would think) and writings of the people (not high-brow philosophers) with Paul's writings and concepts, a new picture emerges of just what was being battled and why Christian concepts would be so welcome and revolutionary.

I never had the negative image of Paul that many seem to have picked up from his writings and which were the reason the author began researching the info that has become the basis of this book. However, it is fascinating nonetheless to see just how foreign those ancient cultures really were when compared to ours and what we think we know. I'm on page 40 but it has been eye opening already.

If you are dubious about the book, take a moment to read her after-notes on the scholarship and sources. It will reassure you. This is not a pop-culture take but a scholarly work that has been brought to our level. Or so it seems to this unschooled reader.

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