A brief but thorough account of St. Paul’s life and an analysis of its significance in the subsequent development of Christianity.
Paul presents a unique challenge to scholars, as he’s unusually difficult to fully understand. In this debut, Noel tackles this enigmatic figure, painstakingly assessing available historical and biblical evidence. Paul began his life as Saul and was a man of several significant identities: he was a traditional Jew who was apparently educated to become a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, and a resident of Tarsus, a city in eastern Turkey. Noel carefully weighs the competing significance of these influences and judiciously attempts to uncover a single coherent vision of Paul. He meticulously considers a totality of factors, including Paul’s character, his upbringing, his education, and his self-reliance despite considerable family wealth. The author also furnishes a synoptic account of the theological landscape into which Paul was born, defining the various sectarian schools of which he would have been aware. Although Noel predictably and sensibly assigns a central place to Paul’s well-known conversion, he also thoughtfully reflects on a subject that’s too often neglected: the reasons why Paul was such a committed persecutor of Christians in the first place. According to the author, his fury was a function of his devotion to Judaism and his opinion that Christianity was a heretical rejection of it: “In Paul’s view, the very existence of a religion that had faith in the crucifixion of the Messiah was blasphemy against his most sacred hope of salvation and the deliverance of Israel, which God promised to his forefathers.” Of course, Paul’s conversion transforms him from persecutor to persecuted, and Noel provides a detailed overview of Paul’s evangelical mission, which apparently focused on spreading Jesus’ message through densely populated urban centers. It’s remarkable how much ground the author covers in a relatively short monograph, which is largely attributable to concise, lucid prose that’s not always found in research-driven literature. One ends up wishing for more extended discussions of Paul’s letters and his theology, but this whetting of intellectual appetite is more a virtue than a vice.
An excellent single-volume introduction to Christianity’s first theologian.