Friday, December 3, 2010

Paul Among The People by Sarah Ruden

Sarah Ruden, a research fellow at the Yale Divinity School, is a scholar of ancient Greek and has translated four books of classical literature, including the Aeneid, into modern English. 

In Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, she uses her own translations of Greek literature from the time of Paul as well as her own translations of his epistles to explain the cultural context within which those writings would have been heard and interpreted by Paul's contemporaries.

Although Ruden is an academic, the book is not a dull treatise, but a fairly lively presentation of the man she calls "the greatest theological genius of all time" in his own time and place.

Pau's views on pleasure, homosexuality, women, relationship with the state and slavery have been--and still are--the subject of dispute within the Christian community around the world. Ruden uses her knowledge of ancient Greek and the literature of Paul's day to illuminate his views on these subjects.

Anyone reading this book looking for support for their progressive/liberal or evangelical/conservative interpretation of these controversial topics will be disappointed. Her conclusions challenge both sides of the church because she demonstrates that the premises underlying the lenses through which twenty-first century Christians are viewing these issues are quite different from those of the first century.

I do not have much background in ancient classical literature and found that sometimes it was hard to follow Ruden's extensive translations, even though she uses colloquial rather than academic language. Also--be warned--some of the selections included, particularly in the chapter on homosexuality, are quite graphic. Personally, I would have preferred to read a summary or description rather than the "real thing." 

Paul Among the People is a creative, innovative approach to understanding Paul in the ancient cultural context. Ministers, educators, academics and other church professionals will find it interesting but I would not recommend it for the average layperson.

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