Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography

Article excerpt

Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography. By Bruce Chilton. New York: Doubleday, 2004. xiv + 335 pp. $24.95 (cloth).

Brace Chilton's narrative of Paul's life and ideas follows the lead of the Acts of the Apostles, which dramatizes Paul as a hero and singular missionary. Despite his criticism of the piety of Acts, Chilton follows Acts' chronology closely. Written for a general audience, the book tells of Paul's life in a wealthy family in Tarsus, his study as a Pharisee in Jerusalem, his debates with other Jewish leaders of the movement, and his ambition to speak as an apostle for all of Christianity. As a mystic who experienced the risen Christ in the pattern of 1 Enoch and Daniel, Paul's ability to translate his own vision into others' experience of transformation made him "the most successful religious teacher history has ever seen" (p. 128). Chilton draws on Hellenistic Jewish literature to set Paul in context in a way that is clear and concrete.

The notes and sources at the end of the book locate Chilton s argument within scholarly debates. Scholars of Paul will question Chilton s decision to privilege Acts over the letters, his version of Pauline chronology, his identification of Paul and his family as upper class, his interpretation of Paul's views of women, and his assertion that Timothy edited Philippians and wrote Colossians and Ephesians. Cliilton's main purpose, however, is not to defend the positions he has taken but to tell a readable and interesting story. Chilton supplies what Acts lacks, vivid dramatizations and explanations of Paul's opinions and inner struggles. Here Chilton exercises historical imagination to describe Paul's thinking and feeling: "Paul felt like a new Moses, divine Spirit coursing in him and through him; but he was also as lost as Israel in the wilderness, disoriented by his own vision" (p. 75). Since Krister Stenclahls landmark article, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," many scholars have been cautious about such a focus on Paul's individual, subjective experience. …

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