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The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul Paperback – December 3, 2012
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is a strange time for Pauline studies. After seemingly having run out of other ideas to beat to death, the academy has ventured into new territory. One might even say that, on analogy with the intrepid Netherlanders of old, Pauline scholars have created new territory to settle. A visit to the seminary book store or the religion aisle at Barnes & Noble will acquaint the reader with books arguing that Paul was a culture critic of Hellenistic Judaism, that he was a Jew and remained a Jew, that he wrote against U.S. foreign policy, and so on. Indeed, more than ever, he seems like a new Oracle of Delphi whose equivocal utterances may be read as conveying whatever message one most wants to hear. Like the infamous “historical Jesus,” Paul has become a reflection of the scholars studying him.
Part of the reason for this state of affairs is that Jesus has recently been unavailable for these uses. As scholars have become more skeptical about recovering the goods on the historical Jesus (as witness the Jesus Seminar’s claim that only 18 percent of the sayings database was reliable), the less plausible it has seemed to make him the poster boy for green politics, feminism, whatever. Granted, this hasn’t stopped a number of scholars who still write books manufacturing and manicuring Jesus to look like them, since the less evidence there is, the more room is left for speculation; but some have retreated to Paul instead. Perhaps he can be the bulwark theologians once thought they had in Jesus. But great ironies lie this way.
First, the closer scrutiny the Pauline texts receive, the clearer it becomes (and by now it seems mighty clear indeed) that the epistles present us with many of the same challenges the Gospels did. They appear to be filled with the same variety of redactional seams, non-sequiturs, and double-audience rhetorical tricks we find in the Gospels. In short, the historical Jesus problem replicates itself in the case of Paul. The epistles reveal themselves to the discerning reader to have exactly the same sort of limitations as the Gospels do: both are collections of fragments and pericopae contributed and fabricated by authors and communities of very different theological leanings. Both present barriers to the access of the individuals under whose names they appear, not open doors.
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Top customer reviews
The book divides into roughly two parts. In the first Price lays out his thesis that the apostle Paul as we know him from the New Testament is a sanitized version of Simon Magus. Simon promoted his own version of gnosticism, which was eventually adopted by Marcion before being sanitized by emerging Catholicism. Price used many non-canonical sources which are sure to be unfamiliar to many readers.
In the second part Price translates and comments on the New Testament epistles. He relies heavily on previous scholarship but points out places where he differs. His conclusion is that none of the epistles can be considered genuinely Pauline but serve the often contradictory agendas of many redactors and writers.
Like every Price book there are numerous touches of humor and pop culture references abound. On the other hand this is obviously intended as a serious scholarly work and is referenced accordingly. There are some favorable blurbs from Hermann Detering and Robert Eisenman on the rear cover. One wonders if they appreciated the references to Jack Kirby and Star Trek!
Highly recommended. The book is pricey despite the online discount and the prospective reader should take care that he is up to the level of the book. This book will only frustrate the biblical novice.
This book is great fun to read.
So few scholars are able to trespass on forbidden grounds that this publication is a rare occurrence to appreciate. Students should seize the opportunity offered to understand the Pauline texts differently. Readers will discover a lot of ideas that do not usually hit the news. Nobody is expected to agree with all of Price's thoughts and speculations but they are at least clearly framed and open or reopen neglected fields of research. The effort is welcome after so many normalization attempts dictated by apologists.
Pulling on the threads of the Dutch Radicals, Price denies the historicity of Paul, considers all his letters as pseudepigraphical, and reads them according to a later second century context. It is all very refreshing and shows how fragile the previous harmonizing attempts really are.
A very similar reading of the letters, as exposed in the second part of Price's book, is however possible via a less radical approach. Paul does not need to be eliminated, if only Romans, the archetype of Pauline genius is made to lose its laurels and is set entirely in a second century context. It so obviously belongs there. Paul's remaining letters can then be read as receiving significant additions if not entire chapters coming from the Roman scriptorium giving to Marcionite and Gnostic ideals all the apostolic and early recognition they sought for.
I would also like to draw reader's attention to the fact that Price has a few linguistic bad habits that may confuse some. He abuses of the word catholicizing that gives the impression that a Catholic Church existed very early. Catholic Church only means the Great Assembly. Within the second century Roman Jesus Messiah Assembly the Jewish members were just as 'Catholic' as the Gentile Christians. The Assembly was initially more in the line of a Messianic oriented synagogue run by messiah-minded rabbis with Gentiles begging to benefit from the God of Israel's new mystery. With outside influences run by Valentinus and Marcion, the Assembly inevitably began tilting toward Gentile dominance, as expressed in later 9-11 where Gentile Christians are dictating their rules. Catholicizing Paul is even more obscure. Because the Jewish members would have been against Paul as used by Marcion to reject the law. Paul was initially the hero of Gentile Christians lobbied by Marcion. But Gentile Christians also abandoned Paul when it became obvious that the gospel tradition, known only during the later decades of the second century, hailed Peter and James as Jesus followers, and never even mention Paul. So both sides were finally against Paul. Verses showing how Gentile Christians were secondarily appropriating Peter and James while treading down Paul are very visible in Paul's letters as well as in Luke-Acts.
Price's book is nevertheless one of the 'musts' people interested in the NT should have and regularly consult. There is too much in it for one big gulp.
Basing some thoughts on Price's own translations, I found a couple. 1 Corinthians 6:3 has Christians judging angels. I had always thought that angels were perfect beings, except for Satan and his lot, so, what is there to judge? 2 Corinthians 3:5 has Christians moral competence comes from God. It is claimed by some Chrsitians that with out god there can be no moral accountability. So, how, based on this text, can Christians gain moral merit if they our given it automatically by god?
If one is seeking a scholarly appraisal of Pauline epistles this is a very good book to read. While well researched, the narrative is pretty smooth. Nothing to technical in it. In my opinion Price is a very good writer and well worth reading other books by him.