- Paul's World
A good research library has perhaps sixty shelf feet directly on Paul of Tarsus. If one were to include the Roman History section, it would be well over two hundred shelf feet on what could be described as 'Paul and his world.' What then is a volume of an introduction and eleven essays entitled Paul's World? The coverage is necessarily incomplete, and the volume takes its place as the fourth in a ten-volume series on Pauline Studies. While the editor of the volume acknowledges the 'almost limitless' possibilities for essays on Paul's world, the rationale for offering these eleven remains unclear. Why an essay on 'The Languages Paul Did Not Speak' and no essays on, for example, economy or demography?
To understand the position of this collection within the field of the study of early Christianity and the study of religion, it is necessary to have some practical understanding of the audience for a collection like Paul's World. At a price of about fifty cents a page (excluding thirty-one pages of indices) this is clearly not aimed at private ownership, much less airline or beach reading. It is aimed at library acquisition. The cultural appetite for studies like this is largely found within seminaries and [End Page 266] divinity schools. For this reason, very few of the essays present new and original research, but instead digest the work of classical scholarship and set it into relation to Saint Paul (where the term Saint is chosen to name the volume's disposition toward the figure). The other task the essays undertake is to bring technical biblical scholarship and scholarship focused on the beginnings of early Christianity to a seminary or divinity graduate-level audience.
There are gems within the collection. James R. Harrison's essay on the 'Paul and the Athletic Ideal in Antiquity' very astutely emphasizes the role of visual and sculptural media in communicating the athletic ideal rather than the literary images to which scholars have traditionally gone to elucidate Paul. It is, however, a grave omission that no visual images accompany the essay, especially given the volume's price. Ronald Hock's essay on Paul's social class is a fresh consideration of the problem from a scholar who has made crucial contributions on the topic for many years. Such candour and willingness to reconsider one's own published positions are a credit. Many other essays exhibit fine control of scholarship and of literary and material data from the Roman world. Nevertheless, to return to the metaphor of appetite, such erudition is often the seasoning on a consideration of Paul and his world that is substantially one of faith. This shows clearly in the uncritical treatment of canonical evidence, especially the book of Acts that characterizes many essays, even to the extent of quoting Acts as words of Paul. Work that has Paul speak to 'the fractured church of today' is the work of faith, no matter how much scholarship is mixed in.
John Marshall, Department and Centre for the Study of Religion University of Toronto