Pauline Spirit

If you only read one book on Paul this year…
June 17, 2008, 1:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have a few reservations about this one (Paul of Tarsus: A Visionary Life), but overall, it answers the average person’s basic questions about Paul’s life and background. You would expect this, given that the author, Edward Stourton, is an award-winning journalist (educated by the Benedictines, no less). This immensely readable book offers more historical background than any other non-scholarly book on Paul I have ever encountered; it even includes the more obscure legends from the 2nd-4th centuries. Paul was always a “sign of contradiction,” and so Stourton also investigated Jewish and Muslim attitudes toward Paul as well (generally… not very favorable).
While Stourton maintains his journalistic integrity throughout, he could have been been a little less naive in assuming that certain profoundly counter-cultural things in Paul’s writings were simply the prejudices of a pre-modern mind, things we enlightened ones can look on with a benign gaze, if not a smile. Paul was as counter-cultural in the first century as he is in ours; if we don’t especially like things he said (especially with regard to moral behavior), that might be a sign that we need to take him all the more seriously!

That said, “A Visionary Life” gives a fine overview of Paul’s life, basic teachings, and place in history. If you want to know more about his spirituality and have a deeper grasp of what  he called “my Gospel,” you will need to go elsewhere.


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