Symposium Introduction

One glance at the cover of Paula Fredriksen’s Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle signals to its readers something important about what they are going to find within its pages. The cover evokes an earlier book on the apostle Paul, E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism, published just over forty years ago. It serves, therefore, as Fredriksen’s homage to what remains for many of us the most important work written on the apostle Paul. But it is no mere homage, for a closer examination of both books reveals that The Pagans’ Apostle isn’t a dead ringer for Paul and Palestinian Judaism.



These two pictures frame this forum more powerfully than anything I could write. In the words of the greatest father of all time, Mike Brady (in 1995 film The Brady Bunch Movie), “I couldn’t have put it better myself, Jan. But I’ll try anyway.”

Like Sanders’s work, this is a book about a Jewish Paul, not a Paul who stands against Judaism. This is a book, then, that rejects the anti-legalistic Paul of the pre-Sanders era, which continues in many circles today. It also rejects the anti-ethnocentric Paul that co-opted Sanders’s many insights and threatened to lead the study of Paul into another dead end. Beyond Sanders, though, The Pagans’ Apostle emphasizes the intended Gentile audience of Paul’s letters and situates Paul’s thinking within the larger Greco-Roman world (Jewish and non-Jewish) which was populated by numerous ethnic gods.

Fredriksen begins The Pagans’ Apostle by reminding modern historians that “Paul lived his life—as we all must live our lives—innocent of the future” (xii). Paul simply did not know how it all would turn out. He could not foresee that his individual letters would be collected and canonized, read by people the world over for two thousand years. How, then, should we read Paul? Fredriksen puts it this way: “As historians, we conjure that innocence as a disciplined act of imagination, through appeals to our ancient evidence” (xii). The Pagans’ Apostle imaginatively constructs a Paul from his few letters. All reconstructions of Paul, from the longest Pauline Theology to the briefest of articles, imaginatively construct a Paul, no matter how self-aware their various writers are of this process. Margaret Mitchell has put this fact beautifully:

Pauline interpretation is fundamentally an artistic exercise in conjuring up and depicting a dead man from his ghostly images in the ancient text, as projected on a background composed from a selection of existing sources. All these portraits are based upon a new configuration of the surviving evidence, set into a particular, chosen, framework.1

What evidence does Fredriksen bring to her construction of the apostle Paul? Her career-long research on the world of Late Antiquity. So when it comes to apocalyptic, a word that has considerable currency in Pauline studies, Fredriksen uses it to mean what it actually meant in the ancient world: Paul truly thought the end was imminent, that the Messiah was going to return in his lifetime, and that he and many of his readers/hearers were going to experience it. He was wrong about all this, as we now know; but Paul did not know this, and scholars who purport to do historical work should not evade Paul’s miscalculation. We need to conjure Paul’s innocence of the fact that God’s cosmic redemption did not happen according to Paul’s expectations.

And, like most people in the ancient Mediterranean world, ethnicity and religion were not two distinct fields in Paul’s mind, but intertwined so completely that to mention one was to mention the other. Ethnicity mattered to Paul because, to use a modern term, Paul was himself ethnocentric. If one, following proponents of the so-called “New Perspective,” still insists upon denigrating ancient Judaism as an ethnocentric religion, one needs to be intellectually honest and include Paul within that denigration. Anything else is apologetics masquerading as history. We need to conjure Paul’s innocence (and the larger innocence of the Greco-Roman world) in relation to their thinking about ethnicity and religion, without passing easy judgment.

And when she speaks of Paul being a monotheist, Fredriksen uses the term monotheism as ancients, Jews and non-Jews, would have: to signify that there were many gods, but only one supreme god at power’s pinnacle. Again, the monotheism of modern Judaism and Christianity (and Islam) would differ. But modern historians should conjure that innocence of later developments in monotheistic thinking and allow ancient peoples, and texts, to speak within their own times.

And, most of all, when Paul claims to be a Jew, he actually was a Jew, not merely, and conveniently, a Protestant in disguise. The law mattered to Paul because it was a good gift from God to Israel. Circumcision and food laws mattered because they were integral parts of the law. We need to conjure that innocence of the first Christ followers who did not know that what they were doing would contribute to the rise of something distinct from first-century Judaism, something now called Christianity.

The Pagans’ Apostle, then, lives up to the story that its cover tells, taking its place within a lineage of Pauline interpretation that includes such luminous ancestors as Albert Schweitzer, Krister Stendahl, and E. P. Sanders. Much that it contains can be contested and discussed, and this forum hopes to serve as a catalyst for that conversation. Our forum opens with Jennifer Eyl’s “Putting the End Back into the Beginning.” Eyl expresses an appreciation for Fredriksen’s insistence on foregrounding Paul’s apocalypticism, a frustration with and uncertainty about how best to translate Paul’s ethnē— “pagan,” “Gentile,” or something else—and a concern over whether The Pagans’ Apostle emphasizes Paul’s Jewishness to such an extent that it recreates the Judaism/Hellenism divide that other scholars have shown to be ahistorical.

In “To See Paul as Paul Saw Himself,” Brent Nongbri reflects on the task and the methodology of historians. What, he asks, constitutes good historical work? Given Fredriksen’s opening call to wield “a disciplined act of imagination,” Nongbri wonders how one can know whether one’s imagination has been properly disciplined, especially given the 24,000 or so words we have from Paul? How can modern scholars of Paul ensure that their readings of him are not dictated by their own moral, ideological, or theological sensibilities?

In a wide-ranging and thorough interaction, Troels Engberg-Pedersen begins with high praise for The Pagans’ Apostle, noting numerous points of agreement with the Paul depicted therein. But he wonders whether Paul does not also envisage theoretical consequences for Jewish believers that parallel the consequences of the “Christ event” (by which he means, specifically, Christ’s resurrection) for Gentiles. In other words, while Paul is the pagans’ apostle, what consequences did Paul envisage for his fellow Jews?

Finally, Eric Barreto explores some of the implications of the historical reconstruction of The Pagans’ Apostle for contemporary theological and historical interpretation. Just as ethnicity is a construct, yet no less real because of it, so too our historical Pauls. These Pauls do something for and to us and for and to others. Like Nongbri, Barreto highlights how necessarily tenuous efforts at reconstructing Paul’s thought must be, given how few, and how occasional, his extant letters are. Our modern efforts necessitate our filling in gaps and making connections that are not explicit within Paul’s letters. What, he asks, do these particular efforts tell us about ourselves, our own ethnic discourses, and our own conceptualizations of the divine?

  1. Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 428.

Jennifer Eyl


Putting the End Back into the Beginning

Paula Fredriksen, Eschatology, and Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle

Paula Fredriksen’s Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle is the sort of book that indicates where we are now as a field—both a benchmark and beacon monograph in which she offers an original contribution while also pointing to the transformative Pauline scholarship of recent decades. Her study weaves together important arguments which underscore the primary claim of the book: Paul’s apocalyptic eschatological expectations inform everything else he writes, and such apocalyptic eschatology places him squarely within a Jewish tradition. When I say “squarely within a Jewish tradition” I do not mean that Fredriksen perpetuates the misguided notion of a Judaism/Hellenism divide, but rather that she resists the notion that Paul rejected the law, or Judaism more generally. Paul never abandons the traditions of his ethnic group, nor could he, given how ethnicity was understood and constructed in antiquity. Instead, she rightly insists that we consider his audience, the Gentiles, when encountering what he says about the law. Ultimately, to Fredriksen, Paul’s impending crisis is this: Gentiles and ethnic Jews (or, Judeans) must properly worship the Jewish god in preparation for the eschaton, after which the Jewish god will reign supreme.

Fredriksen spends the first two of five chapters providing indispensable context. This strategy is vital, given the long history in which NT scholarship has treated context as “helpful background information,” out of which a hero (e.g., Jesus, Paul) emerges unique. Fredriksen’s chapters on Gentiles and Jews in first-century urban environments, combined with an analysis of Jewish apocalypticism, render Paul legible. Indeed, such context is the very key to why Paul would have been intelligible to anyone to begin with. There is much in the book I would like to respond to, but I will limit my attention to three issues to which I continually returned as I read.

“. . . the impending crisis . . .”

If we take him at his word, the Apostle Paul did not envision a mundane, tellurian future. More specifically, the future that Paul describes is one in which the world as he knew it was imminently ending. The references are familiar to Pauline scholars: “The time has been shortened . . . the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29); “For salvation is even nearer to us than when we first became convinced. The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Rom 13:12) (Fredriksen’s translations, 131–32). He and his peers were the last generation whose transformation would come when Christ returns, raises the faithful from their graves, and sweeps them all up into the sky where they will live forever with God: “And the dead in Christ will rise first, and then we the living who remain will be snatched up together with them in the clouds, meeting the Lord in the air, so that we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15–18).

It is easy to lose sight of the eschatological underpinning of Paul’s thought. As Fredriksen so deftly points out, “Time drags when you expect it to end. Put otherwise: all apocalyptic prophecies tend, of necessity, to have a short half-life. As the designated date fails, as the elusive End-time recedes, the prophecy itself can be undermined” (101). Apocalyptic expectations can be sustained for only so long. One reason why it is easy to forget Paul’s apocalypticism is because there is so much else to look at in Paul’s letters. But perhaps the most important reason why we ignore his eschatological certainty is because he was utterly wrong. Christ did not return, and what Paul thought he was doing to prepare for the End became, unbeknownst to him, the beginning of something else entirely. This is evidenced by the longevity of followers’ lives, anticipated by the authors of the deutero-Pauline and pastoral letters (e.g., Eph 6:3).

Fredriksen’s book elegantly and patiently refocuses our attention on Paul’s eschatology and apocalypticism. As she makes clear, apocalypticism is not simply one aspect of Paul’s thinking that informs his letters; it is the very lens through which he writes everything he writes. Thus, it is the first lens through which we must view and interpret him. It is in the context of such apocalypticism that Paul imagines the eschatological future to include Israel and Gentiles-in-Christ. It is in the context of such apocalypticism that Paul encourages Gentiles to Judaize in some ways (e.g., to worship the god of Israel alone and to “eschew idol worship”—see pp. 116–17) but not others (e.g., practice circumcision).

Frederiksen is, of course, not the only scholar to emphasize Paul’s apocalypticism (most recently, for example, see Emma Wasserman).1 However, this particular book brings apocalypticism to bear in those larger conversations about ethnicity, Torah, Judaizing, and ancient rhetoric. That is to say, through her argument, the many significant advances in Pauline studies over the past forty years are properly anchored by such overarching eschatology. Perhaps “refreshing” is a strange word to use when discussing apocalypticism, eschatology, Paul, or even New Testament scholarship, but refreshing it is to see this eschatological expectation, which is so paramount in Paul’s thinking, successfully reorganize how we approach his letters and labors.

The Problem with “Pagans”

Paganus is a Latin adjective meaning rural, rustic, belonging to a village. Used substantively, it refers to a villager or peasant. Because urban dwellers (ancient and modern) often think themselves more sophisticated than people out in the countryside, the adjective can be used in a derogatory manner to mean “redneck” or “bumpkin.” It is in that disparaging urban versus rural context that paganus is adopted by Christians to mean “pagan”: the backwards country people who cling to their outdated, uneducated, ancestral ways (i.e., ways that are not Christian and urbane). This transformation in connotation does not happen for three centuries or so after Paul. Yet here we stand, the recipients of a legacy that defines Paul’s Gentile followers in the first century by a term developed later by Christians to describe non-Christians. The problem with this, of course, is that when it comes to Paul, we are not dealing with Christians and non-Christians; we are dealing with Judeans and Gentiles. And Gentiles who are Judaizing.

What, then, do we call the followers of Paul? For that matter, what do we call the Gentile non-followers of Paul? He utilizes two categories of people: Ioudaioi and ta ethnē. Occasionally he will use hellēne interchangeably with ta ethnē. In addition to categories of people (by ethnicity), Paul calls his Gentile followers “holy people” or “holy ones” (hagioi) and “brothers” (adelphoi). As Fredriksen points out, even Paul “had no good term for the ekklēsia’s non-Jewish ex-idol-worshippers” (117). In 1 Cor 12:2 he says, “When you were ta ethnē (Gentiles), you were led astray to mute idols,” suggesting that, at least, they are no longer ta ethnē.

The work of Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi has addressed the extent to which Paul may have had his hand in crafting the category of goy or Gentile,2 but we scholars are stuck without a word by which we may identify Paul’s non-Jewish Gentile followers who (may or may not) have abandoned their ancestral gods and traditional religious practices and origins stories, in favor of Paul’s origins story and Paul’s ethnically Jewish god. How do we categorize such people? Throughout the book, Fredriksen navigates this problem by using “pagans,” “ex-pagan pagans,” and “Gentiles-in-Christ.”

“Pagan” is a discomfiting category. I say that not as a critique of Fredriksen’s book; quite the contrary, I am deeply sympathetic to the struggle for an ethnonym or category that resists the anachronistic Christian/pagan distinction. I have a strong interest in this problem, because to think about it means one must grapple with a problem that has no satisfactory solution. Those kinds of problems are particularly compelling.

Sheepishly, I can offer no proper solution and no better category. But the conversation about categories of people in Paul’s letters is persistently interesting and given the centrality of the category “pagan” in Fredriksen’s book, the topic is unavoidable. I suspect that the failure of a sufficient category is a blessing in disguise; because categories function to corral and feature one set of data about people (ethnicity, age, sex, etc.), other types of data are neglected or overlooked. When we rightfully critique the familiar “pagan,” we are forced to consider, in close detail, how Paul speaks of various ancient peoples and how they pertain to one another in a larger divine plan that hinges on ethnic belonging. Lacking a convenient category for such people is frustrating but continuously provocative, as Fredriksen’s book shows. While she uses the word “pagan,” she frequently addresses why it is problematic. This issue is larger than simple nomenclature; to claim that it is simply a dispute over convenient nomenclature is to obfuscate the social mechanics by which new categories of people emerge in history. In the wake of Paul’s life and work, we see a new category for people emerge and that historical process is nothing short of fascinating.

Paul within Judaism

Fredriksen argues that Paul lived his life fully within Judaism. Framing Paul as fully “within Judaism” has gained purchase in recent years, and another way of putting it is that Paul did not “abandon” his ethnic Judaism: he did not neglect worship of the Judean deity, give up traditional ethnic-religious practices, or disavow Judean sacred texts. He can be understood vis-à-vis other Jewish writers of his era. Fredriksen’s articulation of this is especially helpful as a response to the continued proliferation of NT scholars who think that Paul rejected Judaism in favor of Christianity. Such a position, still entrenched in some circles, John Gager dubbed the Rejection-Replacement model.3 Thus, while Fredriksen’s dismantling of such an approach is important, it is unclear what else “Paul lived life fully in his native Judaism” entails in this book.

As an inhabitant of the Roman empire heavily influenced by the legacy of Greece, and as a native Greek speaker clearly versed in Greek philosophical concepts and actively interpreting Jewish sacred texts, Paul would certainly be “as Judean” as he is “a product of Hellenization.” Fredriksen does not dispute this, and even spells that out clearly in chapter 2, which discusses the integration of Jews among their neighbors in Mediterranean cities. Yet, as the book unfolds, it seems that “Paul within Judaism” comes to look like “Paul only within Judaism.” This is a tricky thing for me to suggest, especially since Fredriksen has so painstakingly demonstrated that even “the Western synagogue joined the ranks of the gymnasium, the hippodrome, the odeon, and the baths as another institution of Greco-Roman urban culture” (60).

I do not want to resurrect (ahem) the Judaism versus Hellenism argument, but do wonder this: In Fredriksen’s thinking, how do we see Paul’s activities and teachings as exemplifying a kind of integrated Greco-Romano-Judeanness? I am aware that my question runs the risk of reinscribing distinctions I myself resist. But I ask because after so carefully arguing for the integration of Jews within first-century cities, Fredriksen focuses almost solely on Jewish authors, texts, and traditions. If that integration is as she has suggested, where in Paul’s thinking do we see it most readily? His ethical teachings? His ideas about gender and sexuality?

Paradigm Shifts

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,4 in which he argued that changes in scientific knowledge do not come about by the (traditionally assumed) accumulation, or critical mass, of small-bore knowledge that piles up as an overall mass of knowledge. Rather, he argued, observable anomalies, which poke holes in prevailing scientific theories, trigger a reckoning with current knowledge and, thus, demand paradigmatic shifts in scientific thinking. Scientific knowledge grows and is refined as it disproves itself, giving way to new paradigms. These amount to monumental changes in how we think and what we know.

We see something similar in our field. As Fredriksen points out in her acknowledgments, “Something is going on in Pauline studies” (175). Something indeed is happening, and that something is tantamount to a paradigm shift in how scholars approach, contextualize, and interpret Paul. Anomalies and contradictions in our knowledge abound: if Paul describes his followers and God as pistoi or pistos, respectively, why do translators render God as faithful but Paul’s followers as believers? If Paul uses precisely the same technical vocabulary found among Stoics and Platonists, why the refusal to consider him conversant in Greek philosophy? If Paul clearly employs two categories of people—the Ioudaioi and ta ethnē, why do we insist that he operates with three (Jews, Christians, and pagans)? If we know Paul’s letters to be occasional pieces, why do some New Testament scholars continue to treat them as though they were written for all of humanity, millennia into the future—especially if Paul did not conceive of a mundane future? Such anomalies have punctuated the traditional ways of approaching Paul and demand our attention. Thankfully, over the past forty years, such anomalies, anachronisms, and contradictions have been addressed and continue to be addressed with erudition and thoughtful precision. We have what amounts to a shift in our thinking toward locating Paul not just in his historical milieu, but as a product of that milieu.

This leads me to what I think is the greatest strength of Fredriksen’s book. While scholars have produced groundbreaking studies on Paul in recent decades (e.g., Stendahl, Malherbe, Stowers, Gager, Johnson Hodge, Wasserman, and others),5 Fredriksen does what other studies have not, to date: to synthesize, in one volume, where we now “are” in Pauline studies. She does this with patience for the non-specialist and with exactitude for the scholar. By that, I mean she explains words like theosebeis and prosopopoeia, knowing that many readers may already be familiar with such terms and why they matter. At the same time, she engages in highly specific and technical discussions that will challenge the presuppositions of her specialist audience. This strategy in writing makes the book relevant in scholarly discussions without excluding the general, interested reader.

  1. Emma Wasserman, Apocalypse as Holy War: Divine Politics and Polemics in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

  2. Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Goy: Israel’s Others and the Birth of the Gentile (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

  3. John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

  4. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

  5. Krister Stendahl, Paul among the Jews and Gentiles, and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976); Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989); Stanley K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); Gager, Reinventing Paul; Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), Emma Wasserman, The Death of the Soul in Romans 7: Sin, Death, and the Law in Light of Hellenistic Moral Psychology, WUNT 2/256 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

  • Paula Fredriksen

    Paula Fredriksen


    Ethnic Eschatologies: A Response to Jennifer Eyl

    We stand on the shoulders of giants. But which giants, and by what criteria do we choose them?

    My questions determine my criteria. Why and how did those texts, communities and, movements that, by the early second century, we can begin to identify as “Christian,” originate in the closing decades of Late Second Temple Judaism? How does a message so idiosyncratically Jewish—about Israel’s god and his son, the final Davidic messiah; about the ends of the ages and the impending resurrection of the dead; about the reunion of all twelve tribes and the universal acknowledgement of their god by the seventy non-Jewish nations—even and ever become involved with pagans in the first place? And why did these pagans sign on, radically Judaizing their social practices, their worldview, and their ritual behaviors, showing honor solely to Israel’s god?

    In light of these kinetically interrelated questions, coherence of explanation is my prime criterion. Whatever these Jews were saying—in the Galilee and in Judea, in Aramaic and in Greek, in Caesarea and in Damascus and in Rome—it had to make sense to their various contemporaries, hearers both Jewish and pagan. What ways of thinking about the past, about this past, best accounts for the behaviors of all of these ancient people, and for the exiguous textual evidence (preserved in vastly changed circumstances) that they left behind?

    Thus, my giants: Schweitzer and Stendahl. Schweitzer (and I interject here a shout-out to Johannes Weiss) in his work on both Jesus and Paul, unflinchingly emphasized eschatology. Immediate, temporally conceived, End-of-the-world-as-we-know-it eschatology.1 Stendahl (and I interject here a shout-out to Johannes Munck), in his work on Paul and especially on the Letter to the Romans, emphasized mission as the context and content of message.2 Jews, convinced that Israel verged on cosmic redemption, had an urgent message to get to the nations. The nations, too, they said, would be redeemed: but they had to commit to the right god. Through the pneuma of that god’s son, these people could do so; and in the brief meanwhile—as Eyl’s own lambent publication has recently explored3—their own pneumatic powers offset those of current cosmic rulers. But, said Paul, they better get with the program before Christ came back, which was soon. To quote Dale Allison’s quoting Harris Lenowitz, “The time scheme . . . for a messianic movement has but a single date: now.”4

    I lack the evidence to conjecture why John the Baptizer and, following him, Jesus of Nazareth thought that God’s kingdom was at hand. I do know that an astonishingly strong, non-falsifiable trust (emunah; pistis) in this prophecy enabled some of Jesus’s followers not only to experience Jesus as raised, but also to interpret that experience: it validated their confidence in his prophecy. Paul, some quarter-century later, and to significantly different auditors, still broadcast the same message: The Kingdom is at hand.

    “Jewish apocalyptic eschatology” is our heuristic, scholarly shorthand term for a baggy and uncoordinated assortment of expectations, predictions, resentments, compensatory visions, and hopes. As an interpretive framework, though, it represents the only first-century way of thinking that could have made sense of Jesus’s resurrection—and, indeed, that could even have sponsored having that experience to begin with. And it is the only interpretive framework that accounts for the immediate afterlives of Jesus’s message in his followers’ missions to Israel of the Diaspora, where synagogues already held sympathetic pagans. The missions’ demand that these ethnic others foreswear their own gods for Israel’s god, itself a form of radical Judaizing, indexes the missions’ apocalyptic sensibility: the returning messiah was about to put these lower deities in their place (e.g., Phil 2:10–11; 3:21; Rom 8:38; for the more detailed theomachy, 1 Cor 15:24–28). Worried synagogue authorities, Roman magistrates, and urban crowds outside the movement(s) thought otherwise (2 Cor 11:24–27). Not everyone was as certain as were Paul and his colleagues that they knew the time on God’s clock. But again, these apostles had inside information: pneuma and its prerogatives.

    “One reason why it is easy to forget Paul’s apocalypticism,” Jennifer Eyl rightly notes, “is that there is so much else to look at in Paul’s letters.” True; and from those elements mighty institutions have grown. Institutions are invested in the long term. Apocalyptic movements are not. Inevitably, then, theologies based on these first-century Jewish texts will have a built-in torque. Paul (as Krister Stendahl luminously reminded us) was not a fourth-century Augustinian catholic. Nor was he a sixteenth-century Augustinian monk.5 Nor was he—I remind my New Testament colleagues—a member of the SNTS with a full set of Loebs. What a text meant to its first-century authors and hearers, as Krister again reminded us,6 will invariably be other than what it means to a twenty-first-century Christian community (of any denomination).

    But, as Eyl continues, “perhaps the most important reason why we ignore [Paul’s] eschatological certainty is because he was utterly wrong.” Paul—as Jesus and the Baptizer before him, and as the Teacher of Righteousness before all of them; and as Joachim of Fiore and Sabbatai Zvi and William Miller, to name but a few, after them—was wrong about the world’s ending in his lifetime.

    This unimpeachably correct observation touches a living nerve that connects the modern measure of truth to meaning: scientistic constructions of empirical confirmation. Logical positivism is a dusty reminder of what happened when philosophy internalized this standard to assess the meaningfulness of truth claims. Scientific and humanistic study both rest on hermeneutics, true. Like God, the Higgs Boson particle is elusive. But criteria of meaning, as we search for each, differ. Ideas about God in the West have a much longer echo chamber, a lot larger institutional investment, and (for better and often for worse) a lot more social purchase than does particle physics, for one thing. And the tests for Higgs Boson, while elaborate and expensive, are empirical, not moral or creedal or cultural.

    It should be possible—indeed, it must be possible—to do theology even though the chief prophecy of Jesus and Paul, it turned out, was wrong. Schweitzer thought so. So did Stendahl. And they declined to distort history, or to deny it, in order to think theologically and to engage the world ethically. In their lives and in their work, these two great men embodied courage. Intellectual and theological courage. Strong shoulders to stand on.

    One quick word, about theological taxonomies—“The Problem with ‘Pagans,’” as Eyl notes. The syngeneia that defined ancient Mediterranean “religions,” the kinship relations between heaven and earth, left Paul’s tongue tied. Ethnic others, whether Greeks or barbarians, were to commit to his Jewish god—while not, he heatedly insisted, “becoming” Jews. (No circumcision parties!) There was no term for non-circumcised (“unconverted”) ex-pagan pagans committed exclusively to Israel’s god, enabled through his son’s pneuma to follow (many of) that god’s specifically Jewish laws. This lexicological fact itself indexes the unstable social novum represented by these first-generation Christ-movements.

    In time—the very thing that Jesus and Paul were convinced did not remain—these ex-pagans would be called “Christians.” That term would then be extended to the original and originary Jewish generation as well. But the very idea attested by this term means that the movements’ founding prophecy had to be retrieved through reinterpretation. In the late third-century anthology that we now call the “New Testament” an assortment of these second-, third-, and perhaps fourth-generation reinterpretations abides, the canonized survivors of Constantine’s later triage. The erasure of immediate eschatology began as soon as time failed to end on time. As historians, we have to work to recapture that moment of the movement. And we can.

    Finally, to “Paul within Judaism.” That the argument qua framing device even needs to be made—as it now is, variously, by a merry band of scholars who dispute raucously as well between themselves—measures how theologically overladen the field of Pauline Studies is. “Judaism,” like “Christianity” and like “paganism,” is just another heuristically convenient label. Roman-period Jews (which is what and who I actually study, not “Judaism”) were an ethnic archipelago unevenly distributed across the empire and beyond, varying locally according to class, clan, and culture, varying trans-locally even more. (Jesus and Paul, remember, did not even share the same scriptural traditions.) Ancestral customs, many concentrated on and around their one particular god (and, occasionally, on his assistants), were variously communicated and enacted by people who thought of themselves and were thought of by others as Ioudaioi. That (hi, Steve Mason!) is what I mean by “Judaism,” whether modern or ancient. Jews were no more on the same page then than Jews are now.

    Eyl gently complains that “as the book unfolds . . . ‘Paul within Judaism’ comes to look like ‘Paul only within Judaism.’” Heu, miserrima! (I, not she.) I labored, using his undisputed letters, to locate Paul within the god-congested, multiethnic pagan religious institution where he worked: the ancient city. I am morally certain that he, like Gamaliel after him, availed himself of Roman baths. (That is, Paul—as other wandering apostles, doubtless—was naked, in public, immersed together with uncircumcised idol-honoring Gentiles both before and after God revealed his son in him. That thought should put the quarrel in Antioch, whatever that was about, in some sort of perspective.) And Paul used the public loos. And the public fountains. But he never says so, and those behaviors do not really touch significantly upon what we have of his messaging.

    But we do know that Paul called down the pneuma of Christ using exactly the same language of adjuration that a magical adept would employ to summon any obliging superhuman power: epikaloumai.7 Surely his first-century auditors (the Jew first and also the Greek) would recognize an adjuration when they heard it. Paul watched (though I doubt ever participated in) Greek sporting events, and he uses this experience to articulate teaching moments. Paul’s main conceptualization for integrating ex-pagans into Abraham’s family draws on Roman (i.e., pagan) legal protocols of huiothesia / “son-making.”8 He combats the social agency of insulted godlings (lower gods, lords, and daimonia), and he looks forward to their losing the final cosmic battle to the son of his god.

    Paul, in short, worked a different neighborhood than did James. In consequence, he had to deal with a lot of non-Jewish others, both human and divine. As a first-century diaspora missionary, Paul-within-Judaism worked within and was shaped by majority Mediterranean culture, a.k.a. paganism. “Paganism” no less than “Judaism” contoured his Christology: those gods are Christ’s “last enemies.” Modern monotheist readers do not see these other gods, but there they are in the New Testament, as in the Old, looking right back at us. Of course, these deities also stand in Plutarch and in Seneca and in Tacitus and in Juvenal, and I appealed to those sources too, though lightly. The gods are not invisible, there. The Pagans’ Apostle seeks to help the reader to see that these gods also operate, importantly, within impeccably Jewish texts: 1 Thessalonians and Philippians and the Corinthian correspondence and Romans. I wanted to make them visible there.9

    To close on the question that Eyl closes on: Where are we now in Pauline Studies? Alas, as far as I can tell, we stand in two discrete silos. The SBL bears witness to this. One silo is Pauline Theology. The other is Pauline Epistles, joined recently by the Historical Paul. These silos usually host scholars trained and teaching in different institutions: divinity schools and faculties of theology, to the one side; humanities departments—comparative religion, or Classics, or history, or philosophy, or some combination of these—on the other. We all share space in some journals, but that situation, too, is becoming polarized.10 There is little traffic across the (evident) aisle. I want to change this. I want this to change.

    To that end (telos, as in Rom 10:4), to contemplate the state of our state, both sections, Pauline Epistles and Pauline Theology, are co-sponsoring a session on Paul, History, and Theology. Paul-people will speak (John Barclay, Troels Engberg-Pedersen). A Roman-period Christianist will speak (Candida Moss). And the man who wrote the book (actually, many books) on Renaissance historiography, Professor Tony Grafton of Princeton University’s Department of History, will also speak. (That way of framing history, in the sixteenth century, is why Luther validated his reading of Paul by saying that he was simply recovering what Paul himself had said.)11 Insha’allah, Covid-19 will get in no one’s way. I cannot divine from here what wisdom will spring forth or which spirits will descend. One thing I do know: this panel will be terrific. SBL, Boston 2020. Be there or be square.

    1. The Quest of the Historical Jesus, ed. John Bowden, trans. William Montgomery (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001; first published as Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. Tübingen: Mohr, 1906); idem, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, trans. William Montgomery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). Before him, Johannes Weiss, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, trans. Richard Hyde Hiers and David Larrimore Holland (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971; first published as Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes [Göttingen, 1892]).

    2. “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” HTR 56 (1963) 199–215. Idem, Paul among the Jews and Gentiles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976); idem, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995). Before him, Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, trans. Francis Clarke (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1959). See esp. his first chapter on Paul’s “call.”

    3. Signs, Wonders and Gifts: Divination in the Letters of Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

    4. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 31.

    5. “Introspective Conscience,” art. cit. On Romans 7 as Paul’s own lament, and the ways that that misreading was shaped not by the Confessions, pace Stendahl, but by Augustine’s later attacks on “Pelagians,” see my essay, “Paul, Augustine, and Krister, on the Introspective Conscience of the West,” in Krister among the Jews and Gentiles: An Appreciation of Krister Stendahl, ed. Paula Fredriksen and Jesper Svartvik (New York: Paulist, 2018), 146–62.

    6. Krister Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick, 4 vols. (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 1:418–32.

    7. The Pagans’ Apostle, 238–39n15, with thanks again to Joseph Sanzo for all the PGM references.

    8. The Pagans’ Apostle, 148–51, expanded in my essay “How Jewish Is God?,” JBL 137 (2018) 193–212.

    9. For my more forceful effort at unwrapping this particular invisibility cloak, see “Philo, Herod, Paul, and the Many Gods of Ancient Jewish ‘Monotheism.’” I have tried publishing this essay in two scholarly theology journals, Early Christianity (for which it had originally been solicited) and New Testament Studies. It was rejected, both times, on the basis that ancient Jews were strict monotheists. (With NTS, the first-century Jewish evidence attesting to many gods brought in my argument was dismissed with citations to Deuteronomy and Isaiah. Seriously.) I have taken the essay elsewhere, to a religion journal—with regret: it’s the NT guild, not the religionists, who need to think about it. Stay tuned.

    10. See above, infra n9.

    11. For an unsurpassed analysis of this theological deployment of “history” in the Protestant/Catholic face-off of the late Renaissance/early Reformation, and the ways that it still affects NT scholarship (esp. on Paul and on Jewish law), Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Brent Nongbri


June 2, 2020, 1:00 am

Troels Engberg-Pedersen


June 9, 2020, 1:00 am

Eric Barreto


June 16, 2020, 9:27 am