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Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time Paperback – August 2, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The astonishingly high quality of the new literature concerned with the greatest missionary apostle continues in poet and classical translator Ruden’s cross-referencing of Paul and his literary confreres who describe the world in which Paul spread and strengthened the new faith in Christ. Her project enables her to call the standard repertoire of Pauline characterizations seriously into question. Paul’s cross-references show us a Greek and Roman world of great brutality, given to pleasures carried to damaging and even fatal extremes. Nor was there any notion of inhumane punishment; hence, crucifixion, to which only commoners and slaves were subjected. Homosexuality was basically anal rape of adolescent boys, the more painful the better for the socially superior rapists. Women of high status were veiled, while unveiled women were treated as prostitutes and criminals. Slaves were so unequal to masters that they might have been a different, inferior species. The nonviolent love and community that Christianity preached radically differed from such exploitative, status-based norms, and Paul’s preaching, perceived as being against homosexuality and higher status for non-ruling-class women and slaves, looks very different when contrasted with those Greco-Roman norms as reported by writers from Aristophanes to Apuleius. Judiciously citing her own behavior to bring certain points home to contemporary readers, Ruden is winningly intimate as well as impressively scholarly in this superb book. --Ray Olson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Praise for Sarah Ruden:

Paul Among the People

“Ruden offers a wholly fresh reinterpretation of Paul’s most controversial writings.” –Washington Post
“Ruden is winningly intimate as well as impressively scholarly in this superb book.” –Booklist
“The most exciting book of historical analysis I’ve read in ages – indeed the most exciting book period … What makes reading Ruden such a pleasure, aside from the quality of her thinking and her prose, is her willingness to question settled truths, and to do it with such a lightness of spirit.” –Rod Dreher, Beliefnet

“Wonderfully unexpected.” –Christianity Today

The Aeneid
“The best translation yet, certainly the best of our time.” –Ursula K. Le Guin
“The first translation since Dryden’s that can be read as a great English poem in itself.” –Garry Wills, The New York Review of Books
“An Aeneid more intimate in tone and soberer in measure than we are used to—a gift for which many will be grateful.” –J. M. Coetzee
“An intimate rendering of great emotional force and purity . . . The immediacy, beauty, and timelessness of the original Latin masterpiece lifts off these pages with gemlike originality.” –Choice 
“A perfect Lysistrata for the new millennium: rich apparatus and a sparkling, metrical, accurate translation of this inexhaustible treasure of a play.” –Rachel Hadas, Rutgers University 
“Ruden has caught, better than any translator known to me, both the conversational patterns of Petronian dialogue and the camera-sharp specificity and color of the Satyricon’s descriptive pages . . . A quite extraordinary achievement.” –Peter Green, Los Angeles Book Review
“Relying on her excellent knowledge of Latin, her lively feel for contemporary slang and rhythm, and her infectious love of the work, Ruden gives us the full Satyricon . . . Her book, breathing knowledge and affection, is a delight.” –Donald Lyons, The New Criterion

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Image; 7.3.2011 edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522571
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Ulsterman on April 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Jesus was good, Paul was bad - so goes the familiar slant on the Bible, which paints Paul as the monster who corrupted the enlightened teachings of Jesus by condemning homosexuals, telling wives to submit to their husbands, telling slaves to obey their masters, and telling Christians to obey the government. Sarah Ruden makes an effort to correct this vision of Paul as sexist homophobe, and does so by showing how really bad the pagan world was in his day.

Regarding Paul's often-quoted words about homosexuals, Ruden unveils for us a world where slave boys were regularly used (and mostly abused) for sex, where families with money sent a slave along with their sons to school in the hope the sons would not be accosted by a man trying to procure them as sex toys. Ruden, deeply familiar with Greek and Roman literature, makes it clear that the world of Paul's day was not some delightful 1960s sexual paradise love-in, but a world full of disgusting exploitation, in which both women and boys were objectified, regarded as low as animals. Where I find some fault in her fascinating chapter on Paul and homosexuality is that she rather coyly limits herself to pedophilia and tiptoes around the matter of adult males having sex (obviously that did go on in Paul's day). We can appreciate her detail--horrible as it is--about the abuse of boys by adult men, but the book could have been much more interesting had she included data on adult male practices.

Her chapter on Paul and his view of women is superb. Suffice it to say that modern women should be very happy to live in this world instead of Paul's, for the quotations from pagan literature make one wonder if women were truly loved or valued as human beings in that period.
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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Mark P. Brown VINE VOICE on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reader is greeted in the preface with a fair summary of the bare facts of Paul. Those bare facts are sure to raise the blood pressure of more traditional readers as they firmly set the author as a member of the modern academy. That traditional reader would be at that point ready for yet another 'see Paul really agrees with my modern thoughts' work. That is not what follows.

Dr. Ruden is both true to her scholarly field, and true to the text of scripture. In the process she skewers her admitted modern academy view of Paul ("I kept Paul in a pen out back") and the narrow traditional view of Paul as a prop for authority of all stripes. The author reads the modern controversial passages from Paul (homosexuality, role of women, marriage, authority) and places them firmly in the context they were written. Unlike the typical academic cherry picking of sources, Dr. Ruden's passion and committement to her field shine in every section. The conclusions should be deeply troubling to both academic and tradionalist alike. Paul's call is much deeper than the straw men both camps stand up. The call is to "deal with the everday world in an exemplary way" - faith that God is bigger than we can imagine and that His love is what makes our tragically incomplete selves fulfilled.

The author does not seek to answer or settle arguments that can't be, nor does she suggest modern technocratic and programatic ways forward. True to her subject she "sees there is only one way to win". If you are looking to have your views confirmed, don't read this book. If you want open yourself up to being cut to the heart, let Dr. Ruden lead you through some of her revelations of Paul's call.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Barat on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a work of true intellectual honesty -- and, I'm sorry to say, probably could not be written in the setting of the modern academy. Ruden, a classical scholar who has translated Vergil and Aristophanes among others, here takes on St. Paul, the Apostle most responsible for turning Jesus' message into what we know as "Christianity." Paul has long been in bad odor among numerous progressive types for a raft of supposed sins, including homophobia, misogyny, and a willingness to kowtow to authority. As Ruden demonstrates here, however, these critics have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope all along. In the context of the society in which he lived, Paul's exhortations were radical, not reactionary, in their aim of creating a more inclusive, supportive society. Ruden shows this by the simple device of contrasting Paul's writings with those of contemporary Roman authors and their Greek predecessors, in order to repaint, to as full an extent as possible, the background against which Paul was operating as he wrote his letters to nascent Christian communities. This idea is so obvious in hindsight that it's surprising that it had never been tried before. In Chapter 1, Ruden explains why: classical scholarship and early Church scholarship run on parallel academic tracks. As an unaffiliated scholar (see the interview here), Ruden was able to "think outside the box" and combine the two fields in a unique and eminently accessible way.

Unfortunately, there's a more serious reason as to why Ruden's short, pithy book would have been a "non-starter" behind the ivied walls. She has an annoying habit of following the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of the expected destination marked out by the PC police. Her chapters on homosexuality and slavery are good examples of this tendency.
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