Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context

By Edwards, Robert G. T. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context


Edwards, Robert G. T., Anglican Theological Review


Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context. By J. Albert Harrill. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xv + 207 pp. $83.00 (cloth); $25.99 (paper).

In the introduction to this monograph, J. Albert Harrill presents his two main contributions to Pauline studies. The first is the methodology which he attempts to bring to bear on Pauls life and works-an "antibiography"- which not only intentionally does not cohere to the established genre of biography, but also presents not a historical Paul, but multiple historical Pauls (pp. 1 and 163). The second is his proposal that Paul ought to be seen fundamentally as a Roman historical figure, comparable to other such figures (Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Augustus, and so on; p. 1). In both of these contributions to the field of Pauline studies, Harrill consciously opposes what he refers to as popular presentations of Paul and his writings in "Western culture" (p. xii). Part of these contributions, as Harrill sees them, is his use of the "primary sources," such that all works are excluded except those that scholars today regard as unquestionably penned by Paul the apostle (pp. 13-20). I will suggest that Harrill is only partly successful in the fulfilling of these claims.

Harrills book is laid out in two sections. The first, entitled 'The Life," is Harrills "historical Paul" reconstructed through what most scholars do consider the authentic writings of Paul (pp. 13-20). In many ways, the three chapters in this section correct not just popular misconceptions of Paul, but also some scholarly ones. In contrast to much contemporary scholarship that deals with Paul's Judaism, Harrills "Roman Paul" is a welcome corrective. At the same time, he incorporates recent scholarly insights into Paul's "conversion" (pp. 32-38), his (possible) pharisaic view with respect to Gentiles (pp. 28-32), and the "social psychology" of early Christianity communities (pp. 51-53). However, where Harrills insights are the most impressive are in his chapter "Paul's Life in Its Roman Context," in which he truly does rely solely on Paul's authentic epistles, showing just how Roman Paul's discourse is (pp. 80-88). Here he engages with research that sees Paul to be subversive and anti-Rome in his rhetoric (pp. 91-93). To be sure, Harrill admits that Paul is neither straightforwardly "pro-" nor "anti-" empire (p. 94); instead, he intentionally corrects the mass of publications coming out on Paul's anti-empire rhetoric (see pp. xi-xii).

The second section, entitled "The Legend," focuses on various constructed lives of Paul throughout history, especially in Late Antiquity. …

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