In a worthy companion volume to his Jesus: A Life (1992), novelist-biographer Wilson (A Watch in the Night, 1996, etc.) adeptly recreates the milieu of Christianity's greatest interpreter and missionary. An ex-believer no longer certain about Christianity's historical verities, Wilson is still awed by its power to speak to a broken world. Contrary to the recent, politically correct view of the apostle as a misogynistic, possibly self-hating homosexual, Wilson makes a case for him as ""a prophet of liberty, whose visionary sense of the importance of the inner life anticipates the Romantic poets more than the rule-books of the Inquisition."" The author works through irony and carefully nuanced suggestion, turning over each shard of broken evidence from the ancient world for a clue as to how Paul's ""richly imaginative, but confused, religious genius"" developed. His Paul could spread Jesus' message almost to the limits of the then-known world because he himself embodied a world of contradictions: Hellenized Jew and Roman citizen; a member of Jerusalem's temple police used to seeing horrifying crucifixions, who eventually made the crucified and resurrected Christ the compelling figure of his thought. The biographer, synthesizing much of the latest Roman and Judaic scholarship, establishes an excellent context for the world in which Paul moved: Tarsus, Paul's putative birthplace, where Mithraic rites and the worship of Herakles may have left lasting impressions on his theology; a Palestine seething with sects maneuvering against the Roman Empire; and a Rome growing ruthless toward this growing nationalist unrest. This is not a Paul setting down rules for all time, but one counseling followers to stay pure for the day of judgment they will see soon. Wilson overstates the case for Paul, rather than Jesus, creating the beliefs in the Eucharist and in Christ as savior that form the heart of Christianity, but he eloquently shows why Paul was ""perhaps the greatest poet of personal religion.