Customer Reviews

52
4.1 out of 5 stars
Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:$12.93 + Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

Showing 1-10 of 25 reviews(5 star)show all reviews
73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 24, 2010
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.
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2010
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. As Ruden relates in skin-crawling detail, the "gay idyll" of Greco-Roman society was in reality a nightmare of routine -- indeed, sanctioned and celebrated -- sexual abuse, a world in which parents felt obliged to assign slaves to watch over their sons on their way to school lest the boys be abducted. It's no wonder that Paul had harsh words for homosexual practices of this type. Ruden correctly notes that such groups as the Westboro Baptist demonstrators have also misinterpreted Paul's words for their own ends, but her even-handedness is refreshing. Likewise, in the letter to Philemon, Ruden argues that Paul did not command Philemon to free the runaway slave Onesimus (as some modern commentators have claimed), nor did he "defend" the institution of slavery (as some antebellum American divines claimed). Rather, the letter points distinctly toward the future in its insistence that Onesimus, regardless of his current status, should be treated as a "brother." Once such a concession is made, slavery is doomed.

Ruden enlivens her work with funny and unexpected references to such pop-culture touchstones as James Bond and suburban sitcoms without losing sight of the essentially serious nature of her work. For those interested in ancient history and/or the story of Christianity, I can't imagine a more accessible, enjoyable work.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 27, 2010
Received this book Thursday before leaving for the Beyond Cana retreat and couldn't quite grasp what it was about. I took it and found it it both easy to understand (essential for my evening reading when helping with a retreat) and fascinating. Sarah Ruden goes to great pains to put St. Paul's writings in the context of Paul's "modern times" of Greek and Roman culture so we can see just what cultural forces he was referring to when he wrote his letters. By juxtaposing her knowledge of those cultures (which were considerably cruder and more hostile to Christian religious concepts than we would think) and writings of the people (not high-brow philosophers) with Paul's writings and concepts, a new picture emerges of just what was being battled and why Christian concepts would be so welcome and revolutionary. I never had the negative image of Paul that many seem to have picked up from his writings and which were the reason the author began researching the info that has become the basis of this book. However, it is fascinating nonetheless to see just how foreign those ancient cultures really were when compared to ours and what we think we know. I'm on page 40 but it has been eye opening already. If you are dubious about the book, take a moment to read her after-notes on the scholarship and sources. It will reassure you. This is not a pop-culture take but a scholarly work that has been brought to our level. Or so it seems to this unschooled reader.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for putting yourself into the culture to which Paul was speaking. The author brings up the common misconception about Paul (such as homosexuality, misogyny, etc), then addresses the reality of the culture on that issue at the time, then cites many examples to make sure the point is clear, then returns to showing what Paul's words really meant as applied to living in those times. Paul emerges as someone who really wants to communicate that if we love God then we must show that love to each other in treating each other as equals, all worthy of God's love.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 24, 2010
"What a beastly lot those Romans were" --- C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

People ill-disposed to Christianity and steeped in modernity find in the words of St. Paul every bete noir of modern man and, especially, modern woman. If Paul's message was so horrible, why did it succeed?

The answer, according to Sarah Ruden, is that it was not so horrible. In fact, many of the pronouncements that seem severe were positive liberation from something much, much worse. In our recent past, we have heard of "wilding" by mobs of inner-city youth; if Ruden is right such things were common in the Greco-Roman world and it was against such things that St. Paul railed when he forbade "revelling" and "carousing."

Too few among us read of the horrors of prisons under despots and of the sexual mores of "shame" cultures (in which it matters more what you are accused of than what you have done--contrast "guilt" culture, in which the individual is expected to answer to a trained conscience). These were common in the Greco-Roman world, according to Ruden--and backed by the quote from C. S. Lewis above. Some of these things just cannot be aired on the news during family hours. Others run so counter to the popular newsroom narratives that they never see the light of day. Illustration: A few years ago Phyllis Chesler, a liberal, even radical, feminist (Women and Madness: Revised and Updated) lost her column on a left-wing blog for supporting military and political action against barbarians who do such things. She now appears on a right-wing blog, because that is the only place that will publish her. If the horrors she reports happen today, they could have happened back then, and given what we can see of the mores of a society that required "imperfect" infants to be left for wild animals and required that a son's public virtue be protected in public by a slave, they almost certainly did.

These things happen--correction, WE DO THESE THINGS--when we don't have the benefits of the Western Civilization that we take for granted. And, if Ruden is right, the community that Paul helped to found is one reason we have it.

I find Ruden's case compelling, in part because I know that humanity can sink to such a level. Indeed we are born at that level and must rise against it by virtue of civilization, a civilizing process that most of us have experienced from the moment we were born, and that we note as little as we note the air we breathe. That an individual such as St. Paul could launch our civilization so far above this cesspool is little short of a miracle. And if you believe that God explicitly commanded Paul to his mission, you probably will regard it as a miracle.

This is an important book, but not one to regard lightly. It is unpleasant reading. It must show us a festering and depraved form of humanity. For some it will be shocking; for many, disgusting. This is not because of the writing (which is dispassionate and reserved) but because of the truth of the matter. The fireman who rescues your child from the sewer is going to stink. Ruden tells us that St. Paul was that fireman.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2010
The Greco-Roman society painted by Sara Ruden is brutal and inhuman. Naked prostitutes paraded on busy streets by their pimps and the popularity of slaves dedicated to protecting citizens' sons from random sodomy are just a few of the most striking images Ruden says were common in the first century Mediterranean world. Her picture of Greek and Roman mores would be dismissible, if not for her credentials and ample primary source quotes. As a Harvard-educated current Yale classicist, Ruden cross references the text of Paul most difficult to modern readers (women, sexuality, slavery, government, and love) with many polytheistic writers who were contemporaries with Paul.

What arises out of this is a portrait of the apostle who was ruthlessly antagonistic, not towards Greco-Roman culture as a whole, but any aspect of that culture which dehumanized people. Through Ruden's lens, Paul's stances on women and gays, for example, are not pietistic stances held to retain Jewish tradition, but counter-cultural positions seeking to treat all people with dignity and respect.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2010
Sooner or later every Christian has to do battle with Paul's statements on such subjects as homosexuality and women's place in society. This is the first information I have ever received that helped me to understand Paul's probable intent.
Ruden examines the life of ordinary people at the time of Christ to help explain what seems to us to be wrong-headed anachronisms. I highly recommend this book to every Christian.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2010
I found this book to be very readable and interesting. As the author points out, most of us are passing familiar with some Plato, but the many sources she quotes from lend a great deal of context to what Paul was writing at the time. Having just finished watching the series Rome and then reading this book, I'm reminded that even under the Pax Romana life could be nasty, brutish and short. Paul's message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had to seem an appealing contrast. Too often we like to look on history through the lens of our own time. This book's stated purpose was to present Paul in the context of his own time, and that it does very well.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book ought to be read by everyone with an opinion on (St.) Paul. And that may be everyone. It's tough going, mostly because the Classical era poetry quoted would make dirty limericks in Playboy look like bedtime stories. But that's what St. Paul was writing against, the culture reflected therein. I became interested in this book after reading two interviews with Ruden, in Christianity Today, and Books and Culture.

A few bits jumped out at me. It's clear that (St.) Paul is often reacting to or responding to things in his letters, as he seems to be in the book of Romans. The question there is, what? Ruden provides insights by contrasting this letter with the afore-mentioned poetry and other extant Classical texts. And yes, this does shed light on the so-called controversial passages in St. Paul. What this means, in the argot of a certain subculture, is that in ancient Roman society, only Masters and heads of households are "tops". Everyone else, particularly slaves, are "bottoms", and this second class is not a good thing to be. Paul, with shocking courage, rails against this entire system. And it is a system. It was called "Pudens", and is the subject of numerous Roman plays. The Master/ father/ head could do anything he liked. the Romans practiced both abortion and infanticide. And as Ruden shows, Greece may have been considered the cradle of democracy, but again, it's not for everyone. St. Paul emerges as the first real democrat.

Ruden also notes that St. Paul is often blamed for what the Puritans did or thought or held or stood for or whatever. But that he is not to blame. They got their ideas from the King James Version, which had some questionably translated words. Or, if not mistranslated, couched in Elizabethan ideas which failed to translate into later currency. Chesterton makes the same point in his History of England A Short History of England, but for different reasons and from different evidence. Ruden also shows when the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) is mistranslated. In my view, the best translation is the Revised Standard Version (no "N"). This is the basis for the ESV (English Standard Version); the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; and Richmond Lattimore's version, simply called the New Testament. Like Ruden, Lattimore was a Greek translator, not a theologian or Bible scholar.

When a scheme is split asunder, as Christianity was at the Reformation, notes Chesterton, the virtues as well as the vices fly out, and the virtues, he contends in Orthodoxy Orthodoxy, do more harm. But the reverse is also true. The virtues introduced by St. Paul as part and parcel of the Good News have become so universal in Western society, that we take them for granted, not realizing that they come from and are nourished by this spiritual viewpoint, and by the events of the New Testament. Almost anyone will parrot back St. John's phrase that "God is love", and then proceed to read off a long laundry list of why he's not. But as Ruden contends, seen against the backdrop of the world into which the Son of God came, and in which we somewhat still live, the self-giving of the Savior takes on brilliant contrast.

The pagans had all the virtues except humility, notes Chesterton. It is the lack of humility that created such a brutal society as Ruden describes. And it is the self-giving act of the Savior, who, St. Paul reminds us, "though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross," that enabled both us and our culture to be born again.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2013
I've been a student/followers of Scripture all my life. I've listened to countless sermons about what Paul means by this or that--bogus for the most part. I've been a part of many discussions where none of us knew the context for the issues we were so sure we were right about. This is the first book I've read that explains Paul in his own cultural context.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Ruden usually translates ancient classics, such as the Aeneid. Utilizing her background in ancient literature and history she offers new explanations for Paul's writings from that perspective.

For example, why did Paul tell women to keep their hair covered during Eucharistic services? The ancients did regard women's hair as attractive and part of her appeal. However, only married women or widows wore veils.

Perhaps as many as one out of every third member of the church would be a slave. And slaves were forbidden to marry. Could it be that Paul was kindly suggesting all women wear veils so that all, even the slaves, could be regarded with ask much honor as the married women?

She reminds her readers just how alien, how different the morality and customs of the ancient Greco-Roman world was compared to ours. Horace, for example, mentions how sorcerers obtained livers and bone marrow imbued with a longing. "
By getting "a small boy buried up to his neck and left to starve to death while staring at food" (p 3).

Augustus famously passed laws encouraging wealthy men to marry and beget children. Rich men apparently preferred life without a wife or children. For one thing, it meant a clutch of hangers-on, laughing at your lightest jest, feverishly attentive to your whims, all in the hopes of being adopted and inheriting your estate.

Petronius wrote about the result: "'You are approaching...a town with a plague. There is nothing there but corpses and the crows that feed upon them'" (p 36).

There is also no glossing over the ancient male Greco-Roman fondness for young men. Attractive young boys were so constantly an object of desire that any parent with enough money kept at least one slave to follow the child about as protection. Petronius writes about one male teacher who uses his profession to get to young boys.

The average Roman aristocrat appears to have always kept a young slave boy "the deliciae ('pet') or concubinus ('bedmate')" for his occasional enjoyment.

Ruden points out that "The pederastic writers...The densest source of their work is a section named 'The Boy Muse' in the Greek Anthology of epigrams. These poems extend back several hundred years from the early second century AD when they were collected...These later authors called themselves 'pedophiles' lovers of children...pedophiles were supposed to want only passive boys they could treat as plaything; a young age was key. And the correct target was a child's body, a completely hairless one. Poem after poem tells of disgust at the signs of sexual maturity" pp59-60)"
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.