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Paul Among the People: The Apostle…

Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own… (2011)

by Sarah Ruden

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Sara Rudden compares Paul to ancient Greek and Roman writers to show what he meant to the Gentiles he preached to. She examines modern criticisms of Paul had shows how they distort his original meaning.
  PendleHillLibrary | Sep 29, 2014 |
A very readable look at Paul's writings in the context of Roman society and literature. ( )
  castiron | May 10, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I enjoyed this book. Sarah Ruden brings a great amount of academic fervor to the study of Paul , speaking in a voice that is approachable but not condescending. I really appreciated her willingness to relate personal failings in the mission field to our understanding of Paul, his work and message. This is not something terribly new, she is relating scholarship that has been happening in more liberal theological schools for a while but she brings a fresh voice and personal touch to the subject that is really nice. ( )
  Madcow299 | Mar 12, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Originally reviewed on Amazon. Excellently done book. Not likely to sit well with conservative Christian reviewers. But the scholarship is solid when one considers that the research is done from a comparative literature perspective. Enlightening perspectives on homosexuality as considered from ancient literary sources. ( )
  dossetts | Nov 6, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The apostle Paul has been regarded by many today as prudish, a killjoy, and decidedly politically incorrect in his views and pronouncements. These views arise from the perspective of our considerably "more advanced", "liberated", and "enlightened" culture. C.S. Lewis, reflecting on the conceit of contemporary societies to those that preceded them, coined the term "chronological snobbery". Not only is contemporary society - and post-modern society in particular, with its denigration of history outside of nostalgia - guilty of this but compounding our chronological snobbery is ignorance of what common life was like at the time Paul wrote his epistles.

One forgets that Latin and Greek used to be taught as regular subjects in the secondary school system in the first half of the last century. Students of those times (my parents among them) became familiar with the writings of Cicero, Plato, Homer, Ovid, etc. often encountering them as exercises in translation. Of course, the texts used were screened to remove any undesirable or offensive material. This, combined with the Hollywood depictions of the Roman empire, led to our current society developing a quite a different picture of life in that era than the actual literature portrays. It is common knowledge that life in the Roman empire was decadent, but the average person has not grasped the nature and full extent of that decadence, save for the brutality of gladiatorial combat and the excesses inherent in an orgy.

It is worth noting that literature is the product of a culture that is literate beyond a rudimentary sense, hence what has come down to us from the first century are the writings of an educated class of people, rather than the oral legacy of the illiterate masses, save for those occasions where the literate recorded the speech/poetry/songs/stories of the illiterate. It may be argued that the written record is biased in favour of the educated, and therefore not to be taken as indicative of society as a whole, but it must also be remembered that the educated also exerted considerable influence in the way everyday life was conducted. Hence the literature of the time can be said to be reliable in its depiction of the society in which it originates - a crucial point for the scholarship behind this book.

Sarah Ruden, with a solid background in translating classical Greco-Roman literature, brings her considerable knowledge to bear in providing a window into that era through quoting the literature of that era. Unfortunately, while a master in classical literature, Ruden appears to have only a basic knowledge of theology . At one point in the preface she asserts that "[t]he evidence is strong that the full Christian doctrine came not from Jesus' mouth but from Paul's pen." - without providing any reference as to the source of this "evidence". Encountering such a statement that early into the book might be, for some people, enough to put off reading it altogether, which would be a great loss to the reader.

Rather than defend Paul's controversial remarks in the context of our present culture, Ruden places them in their original context - that of the Greco-Roman world of the first century - and reveals how radical and liberating the message of the Gospel was to the culture of its time.

For example, her examination of the Greek words that were translated as "drunkenness" and "revelries" (or "carousings"), when set alongside quotations that reveal the true context of their usage, informs us that Paul's admonishments on these issues were grounded in genuine pastoral concern and not joyless piety. Similarly, one encounters Paul's pastoral words against sexual immorality in a culture where pedophilia is rife and what Plato described as a failed attempt by Thrasymachos to seduce Socrates turns out not to have been an rare anomaly of deviant behaviour but something encountered in everyday life.
"O the times, O the morals" indeed!

In a similar manner, Ruden examines Paul's views on pleasure, women, loyalty to the state, slavery, and the alternative he preaches as Christian community. One begins to appreciate - perhaps for the first time - what Paul's writings actually meant to the people they were addressed to at the time they were written.

In examining Paul's writings in their original context, Ruden raises the pertinent question of whether Paul's writings have meaning for contemporary society. Paul's concern and respect for the dignity and well being of all - man, woman, Jew, Greek, Slave, free - stands out in sharp contrast to the exploitative, hierarchical, malevolent structure of Greco-Roman society - and that of our own. Her depiction of first century "civilized" life points out that we have some ways to go in some areas to equal or surpass the decadence of Roman society and it raises the vital question of whether we wish to continue in that direction or change course. It we opt for the former choice then we must consider that all previous societies that have continued in that direction have disintegrated or imploded and there is no reason to assume that our fate will be any different. If we decide to opt for the latter choice, then the alternative community of the early church and Paul's pastoral advice to it becomes very - and vitally - relevant to us - even if the rest of society deems it prudish or politically incorrect.

A word of caution to prospective readers is necessary: some of the literature quoted is quite graphic in nature and and the language occasionally obscene. You might want to bear this in mind before beginning a small group study of this book. ( )
1 vote WellingtonWomble | May 13, 2012 |
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Book description
A fresh new look at the letters of Paul which discards centuries of mistranslation to recover Paul's original message of freedom and dignity for all, from widely praised expert on the classical world Sarah Ruden, now in paperback.

In Paul Among the People, Sarah Ruden explores the writings of Paul—the evangelist regarded by Christians as the greatest interpreter of Jesus' mission—to show how they might have affected readers in his own time and culture. Paul is a difficult writer to understand, but with Ruden as the reader's expert guide, it becomes clear that rather than an enemy of human freedom and dignity, Paul and the Christian church he helped to spread represented a new alternative to old ways of thinking, feeling, and living, based on the principles of human freedom and dignity and the need for people to love one another.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375425012, Hardcover)

It is a common—and fundamental—misconception that Paul told people how to live. Apart from forbidding certain abusive practices, he never gives any precise instructions for living. It would have violated his two main social principles: human freedom and dignity, and the need for people to love one another.
Paul was a Hellenistic Jew, originally named Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, who made a living from tent making or leatherworking. He called himself the “Apostle to the Gentiles” and was the most important of the early Christian evangelists.
Paul is not easy to understand. The Greeks and Romans themselves probably misunderstood him or skimmed the surface of his arguments when he used terms such as “law” (referring to the complex system of Jewish religious law in which he himself was trained). But they did share a language—Greek—and a cosmopolitan urban culture, that of the Roman Empire. Paul considered evangelizing the Greeks and Romans to be his special mission.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The idea of love as the only rule was current among Jewish thinkers of his time, but the idea of freedom being available to anyone was revolutionary.
Paul, regarded by Christians as the greatest interpreter of Jesus’ mission, was the first person to explain how Christ’s life and death fit into the larger scheme of salvation, from the creation of Adam to the end of time. Preaching spiritual equality and God’s infinite love, he crusaded for the Jewish Messiah to be accepted as the friend and deliverer of all humankind.
In Paul Among the People, Sarah Ruden explores the meanings of his words and shows how they might have affected readers in his own time and culture. She describes as well how his writings represented the new church as an alternative to old ways of thinking, feeling, and living.
Ruden translates passages from ancient Greek and Roman literature, from Aristophanes to Seneca, setting them beside famous and controversial passages of Paul and their key modern interpretations. She writes about Augustine; about George Bernard Shaw’s misguided notion of Paul as “the eternal enemy of Women”; and about the misuse of Paul in the English Puritan Richard Baxter’s strictures against “flesh-pleasing.” Ruden makes clear that Paul’s ethics, in contrast to later distortions, were humane, open, and responsible.
Paul Among the People is a remarkable work of scholarship, synthesis, and understanding; a revelation of the founder of Christianity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:35 -0400)

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Explores the ways in which Apostle Paul's edicts may have been misinterpreted, in an account that translates his writings from Koine Greek to assess how he may have been wrongly perceived as a misogynist and social conformist.

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