A dry historical tome that would be more aptly titled ""Paul: A Cultural History."" The difficulties of doing ancient...


PAUL: A Critical Life

A dry historical tome that would be more aptly titled ""Paul: A Cultural History."" The difficulties of doing ancient biography are compounded when one of the two major sources available is believed to be historically unreliable and corrupt. One of New Testament scholar Murphy-O'Connor's primary objectives is to demonstrate why Luke's account of Paul's life, contained in the Book of Acts, is an inaccurate basis for biography. Point well taken, but where to go from there? The author relies heavily on Paul's own letters, but the portrait available from them is incomplete at best. Paul revealed relatively little about his personal life, preferring to call attention to his mission. Some surprising hypotheses do emerge from this work. First, Murphy-O'Connor conjectures that Paul was not a bachelor, but a widower who had lost his family in some sort of tragedy. The psychological evidence for this is slim, and the historical evidence is nonexistent. Much stronger are the author's deductions about the letters themselves; he makes an excellent case for 2 Thessalonians as a genuine Pauline letter, a minority opinion among New Testament scholars. He also challenges Rome as the traditional site of Paul's imprisonment and demonstrates why Ephesus was a far more logical locale. The primary contribution of the book is not that it is a biography of Paul, but that it opens the door to Paul's world through geography, Roman history, and Jewish-Christian conflict. Unfortunately, the prose is mired in academic passivity and such dense phrases as ""abstracting from the spurious clarity of the philological argument."" The book is so weighed down with cultural history that there is relatively little about Paul himself, and what there is seems to be mostly speculation. Acts, though historically imprecise, makes for a much better story.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0192853422

Page Count: 410

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996