cover image Paul


Walter Wangerin, Jr.. Zondervan Publishing Company, $22.99 (509pp) ISBN 978-0-310-21892-0

In his second Bible-based novel, Wangerin delivers an uneven but informative narrative portraying the Apostle Paul as a flawed, confrontational man who inspires either murderous hate or passionate love. Reminiscent of both Eugene Peterson's paraphrased New Testament and Robert Graves's dishy novels about the Roman emperors, this book borrows from the Bible and various other historical sources to chronicle the itinerant ministry of Paul from his preconversion persecution of Christians to his execution in Rome. Each chapter is narrated by a different character--generally one of Paul's close associates--and while this technique successfully brings biblical figures to life, it disrupts the narrative flow. The story is punctuated by epistolary fragments from the Bible-and perhaps most interesting but least connected to the rest of the text-Seneca's gossipy letters about Nero and political intrigues in Rome. To his credit, Wangerin breathes life into the women who are mentioned but never fleshed out in Paul's letters, particularly Prisca, and he takes pains to emphasize the multicultural, multiethnic composition of the first-century church. Nor does he downplay the hardships these groups encountered as they attempted to find common ground. In fact, the novel focuses almost too exclusively on Paul's attempts to reconcile Gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus. While overwrought dialogue about circumcision and Jewish food restrictions is often tedious, readers wishing insight into Paul, the New Testament church and the schisms that nearly destroyed it will be rewarded for their patience. (May)