cover image What Paul Meant

What Paul Meant

Garry Wills, . . Viking, $24.95 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03793-3

This slender volume is something of a sequel to Wills's blockbuster What Jesus Meant ; here, Wills defends Paul from detractors who insist that the apostle corrupted Jesus' radical message. Beginning with a reminder that Paul's letters are older than the gospels and therefore may represent the most authentic approximation of Jesus' teachings, Wills argues that Paul was right in line with Jesus. Both men stressed love of God and love of one's neighbor as the two principal commandments. Wills highlights the differences between the Pauline epistles and Luke's later writing about Paul, arguing that the famous story of Paul's road-to-Damascus conversion, which comes from Luke's account in Acts, is flawed, and that Paul himself did not consider his convictions about Jesus a "conversion," but part of his ongoing life as a Jew. Through a reading of Romans, Wills attempts to acquit Paul of the charges of anti-Semitism. And though Paul is often tarred as a misogynist, Wills shows that he "believed in women's basic equality with men." (Since Wills focuses only on the seven letters that most scholars agree were written by Paul himself, the egalitarian Paul becomes credible; some of the most overtly sexist passages come from letters written later and ascribed to Paul.) Provocative yet helpful, this book is sure to create a buzz. (Nov. 6)