Monday, January 11, 2010

Was Paul a Jew?

The Tablet has an essay entitled, "Was Paul a Jew?" which picks up the discussion of Pamela Eisenbaum's new book, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperOne, 2009). I'm sympathetic to Eisenbaum's larger program (which I've encountered in Gabriella Gelardini's edited volume on Hebrews [see my comments here]), though I think there are problems with some of her details. Nonetheless, Stanley Stowers's blurb is about as positive as I could ever hope to receive; Stowers says:
Eisenbaum shows the implausibility of the common interpretation of Paul that pits a Christian essence against a superficial or rejected Jewish hull. The book's great accomplishment is to show us a historically plausible picture of a fully Jewish Paul who was also fully committed to Christ.

So I'm interested. Even so, the Tablet's essay, linked above, reveals more about the ways of thinking about Paul (and other Western symbols) in popular media than it does about the historical Paul and those who knew and/or remembered him in the first century or so of Christian history. Here's a blurb which illustrates both the nuance that I hope to see more of in our own reflection of Paul and the over-simplification that persists on seeing Christianity and Judaism as separable (or worse, separate!) "things":
If all this is true, it follows that when Paul condemns Jews, he is aiming his barbs at my meddling fellow Jewish missionaries of Christ, not the Jews, a people I harshly reject. And when he speaks of Judaism having been superseded, he means Judaism as a lifestyle to be aspired to by pagans, not Judaism as practiced by Jews. (In Acts, Jews do persecute Paul for preaching the gospel. But Acts doesn’t count as a source for Paul, since the man who probably wrote it, Luke, came along nearly half a century after him, by which point the Jesus movement was busily suppressing its Jewish roots.) (original italics)

[HT: Bible and Interpretation]

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