Customer Reviews: Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in their Roman Context
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book provides a biography of the Apostle Paul. It's decidedly secular (though not antireligious), so if you're looking for devotional literature you should move on right now. Harrill clearly intends it as an undergraduate text, and it's drawn from his own experiences teaching a course on Paul for many years. It has many text boxes, figures and maps to break up the text - and, I suspect, to provide discussion points in seminar.

Harrill has divided the book in two major parts, the story of Paul himself and the story of how Paul was received by other Roman and Christian thinkers. Simply put, I liked the first part but not the second.

In the first part, Harrill is very careful about selecting his primary sources, and very explicit about excluding secondary sources. He's too dogmatic on this point for my taste, but he lays out his standards for any reader to evaluate, modify or reject. He rejects about half the Pauline letters and all of Acts as primary sources, discussing them only as early interpretations of Paul and evidence of some differences among Paul's followers after his death.

In the first part, Harrill puts Paul solidly in his Roman context. He lays out how Paul's rhetoric follows common models from antiquity, suggesting a fair amount of classical education at the gymnasium. He also provides a consistent biography of Paul that is at odds with the story in Acts. Harrill emphasizes the break between Paul and the other apostles, and his position as one of several rival traveling apostles in the Aegean. Paul's conceptions of both political and moral authority play key roles here.

The second half is just too sprawling. We meet some Gnostics, Irenaeus, Origen, John Chrysostom, Mani, Pelagius, and many others. Harrill shares some of the legends of Paul that cast him in various improbable ways. Augustine gets a few pages and Martin Luther gets about a page. The bottom line is that everyone uses Paul for their own purposes, and so does Harrill.

There is much in this part to provoke people who like reading classical philosophy more than I do. However, I was struck by the way that Harrill's reading undermines the received story about "faith" versus "works" that is familiar to both Catholics and Protestants; I'll say merely that the Jewish and Roman context for Paul's distinctions make his intentions here different than what you think they are.

The book is admirably short, and accessible to a college audience. Presumably when it's used as a college text, the instructor can explain unfamiliar material; if you're reading this on your own, it assumes moderate familiarity with the New Testament and with major figures of the Mediterranean world in the first few centuries of our era.
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on June 3, 2015
Or, to the various understandings of Paul down through the centuries. Professor Harrill, in non-technical language for the educated lay reader, leads us through the often contradictory visions of Paul, the 'apostle to the Gentiles.' Of particular interest to those of us from a Protestant background is his discussion of Paul as seen through the eyes of Augustine and in turn Martin Luther. It would seem, to paraphrase the apostle himself, "That whenever Paul is read, a veil has been put over our eyes" by our tradition so that we can only see his words as Augustine and Luther saw them.
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VINE VOICEon December 12, 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
To those who have had glimpses of this apostle through Bible study or church sermons, this is a cohesive look at Paul. It's not a biography, as the author stresses, and it's not limited to the letters Paul wrote, or had attributed to him, as we find them in the New Testament. The author does analyze the epistles, and provides us some surprising insights: for one thing, he deduces references to as many as seven letters to the church in Corinth. The author also highlights, through analysis of Scripture, Paul's conflicts with other Christian missionaries out of the Holy Land, on matters like circumcision or diet.

He is able to place the epistles, and Paul, into the society of the first century AD, and draw insights into Paul's travels, missions and context, from his initial perils in Damascus to his progress into Rome itself, and possible (but not verified) martyrdom there. Paul's Jewish origins and Roman citizenship get new discussion. The author is able to delve into this without baffling the reader; his prose is clear and well-reasoned, and he even illustrates his points with "boxes," sidebars quoting or illustrating a particular point. He also has a contextual understanding of Roman and Jewish society of the day and of the Greek and Latin wording of Paul's work.

The author also discusses the historical and theological Pauls of later Christianity, the interpreted and re-interpreted (and sometimes mis-interpreted) readings of Paul by the Manicheans, the Pelagians, by Augustine and John Chrysostom and, much later, by Martin Luther and Nietzsche, among others. In short, this book is Paul in context, in his time and later, and provides new insights to anybody interested in the life and work of Paul.

Strongly recommend.
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on February 7, 2013
I found myself resisting some of Harrill's more provocative conclusions about the life of Paul, but, for that, I appreciate his work. He raised good questions and helped me think about them, even if I don't arrive at his conclusions.

For example, he convincingly demonstrates that when Paul "sacrifices" his rights as an apostle, he's not being as countercultural as some assert. Augustus, Harrill shows, also "sacrificed" rights that came with his office in order to build his "auctoritas." Paul participates in a common language of authority. Harrill ignores, however, the nuanced differences between the rhetoric of Paul and Augustus; as a result he asserts, incorrectly in my opinion, that Paul "colludes with particularly Roman ways of exercising power" (88).
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VINE VOICEon April 25, 2013
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I found this book to be well written and a different spin on the Apostle Paul and his teachings. I didn't agree with the book in many areas, and I struggled to get into it, but I think it is worth reading to understand the different (secular) understanding of Paul. Controversial and thought-provoking, and definitely not what I learned in Sunday School!
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VINE VOICEon November 26, 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I recommend this especially to academics because it is indeed a deep analysis of the apostle, his life, and his teachings. Hosever, those of a conservative faith may have trouble since the author doesn't accept the book of Acts as a totally reliable source. He also questions the authorship of several epistles credited to Paul.

However, I did find this to be well worthwhile the reading and a thorough look at the issues facing Paul.
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on March 2, 2013
Paul the Apostle provides an excellent examination of the life of Paul that shows how so many common perceptions of the apostle are wrong, most crucially the Book of Acts, Augustine, and Martin Luther (as well as others).

I appreciate the clarity of Harrill's point of view and writing. A modern analysis of Paul sees the problems with Acts, recognizes what Paul did and did not write, understands his ideas evolved, does not privilege Paul's own point of view, resists the word conversion, respects his Jewish identity, and struggles with the multiple cultures in which he lived. Harrill operates in this matrix and builds on it creatively and without apology. He shows where many problems lie and guides his readers to reasonable conclusions, with fresh insights along the way. I very much enjoyed his original discussion of Roman power and its utility in analyzing Paul. His survey of how later Christians read Paul takes the reader into crucial territory that most books on Paul ignore. I found this book a fast, fun, satisfying ride.

This is not a book about Paul's theology, nor it is a commentary on Paul's letters. This is about (1) Paul's life and then (2) what subsequent people thought they knew about Paul. It is likely that most readers will find themselves standing in or near one of the groups that have misread Paul, which may make this an uncomfortable book. I wish Harrill had extended Paul's legacy to include a dispensational or pentecostal reading, so that his net would have included more of his readers.

This is not frivolous or devotional reading. It would serve as an excellent college textbook.
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on August 8, 2015
. Many thanks to the author. I hate finding my previous convictions not to be founded well, but for all of us that have faced such, I'm happy to now have better understanding.
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on February 18, 2016
Excellent and interesting scholarship at its best.
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on August 14, 2014
The author has his own agenda he's pushing
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