Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On "Paul between Damascus and Antioch" by Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer **

This book attempts to identify the Apostle Paul's actions during a period largely undicussed in scripture--from his conversion to his first missionary trip. As such, it provides some key insights into places where Paul was--Arabia, Tarsus, Antioch--through its discussion of historical and geographical context. I'd have wished for more of such. Unfortunately, the authors spend much of the book conjecturing on what exactly what Paul was doing. Some conjecture is, I suppose, unavoidable, given the scant records, but the text seems full of it. I also think the authors read too much into Galatians 2, claiming a clear break between Paul and Peter for something that could also be seen as merely a corrective (if a break were the case, I highly doubt Peter would have even considered Paul's letters worthy reading and thus would have warned against them rather than state that they contained things hard to understand). The book is also quite clearly not for general readers like me but for a scholarly audience. Almost half of it is notes, and phrases in Greek without translation are common. The general thrust of the argument, that it was during the unknown period that Paul came to the understanding he shares in his letter that follow, however, is one that the authors do a good job of proving.

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