Saturday, March 14, 2009

The New Paul

Krister Stendahl and John Gager immediately spring to mind when considering the 'new perspective' on the apostle Paul. The gradually calcifying consensus on the nature of Paul's identity and writings highlights the long historiographic tradition of reading then-contemporary ideologies into Paul's letters; consequently, he becomes associated with anti-Semitism, universalism, psychological torment, etc. In contrast, 'new Paul' scholars re-anchor the apostle in the broader framework of 1st century Judaism. Pauline Epistles read not as systematic theologies directed at the 21st century Christian church, but as occasional letters written to specific communities facing specific problems. Further, on this view, Paul re-enters a long-standing debate about how to read Jewish scriptures in light of claims to messianic prophecy. Paul employs allegorical interpretation alongside Philo, Origen, and Barnabas, to name but a few.

Importantly, this re-working of Paul raises difficult questions about textual authority and authorial intent. For example, what is lost in translation, when the household codes (or Haustafeln) found in Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Peter - likely intended to appeal to wealthier Gentiles in particular communities, as well as demonstrate social normativity - grow into authoritative, eternal social prescriptions on account of their (much) later canonization?

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