Paul Among the People (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, by Sarah Ruden (Pantheon 2010). I bought this book based on a favorable review I saw somewhere. Ruden is a scholar of ancient Greek and Roman literature, and she has published her own translations of The Aeneid and Lysistrata among others. I think I saw in this book that she is also a Quaker, and she decided that she wanted to closely investigate some of Paul’s more difficult teachings to see if he was really the puritanical killjoy that many believe him to have been. She picks a few of his most notorious passages and uses her deep knowledge of Greco-Roman language and culture to explain how Paul’s contemporaries would have understood his message. Generally, Paul makes out pretty well in Ruden’s telling. Just as interesting, she brings home how brutal and unpleasant ancient Western culture really was, and how revolutionary Paul’s message was. I was surprised that she omitted perhaps Paul’s most notorious saying, that wives should be subordinate to their husbands. But I think I figured out why–that passage is in Ephesians, and Ruden notes at the very beginning that many scholars think Ephesians and a few other NT epistles have been incorrectly attributed to Paul. Still, I would have liked to see her grapple with that one.

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