Boston University professor Paula Fredriksen was about to write one kind of book about the Apostle Paul, but then felt compelled to write a different one: Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle, coming from Yale University Press in August, a book that probes and clarifies conflicting new scholarship around his life.
"I never intended to write a book on Paul," says Fredriksen, professor of scripture emerita at Boston University, and visiting professor of religion at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"I was set to begin When Christians Were Jews, a history of the earliest community in Jerusalem, set between 30 C.E., when Jesus was crucified, and 70 C.E., when the Romans destroyed the city. Paul is our only New Testament source from that period.” But, she says, "current scholarship on Paul is so multivocal and contradictory that I had to get clear on what I thought about all this recent work before I could continue."
Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle explores the two worlds Paul inhabited: that of Jewish Jerusalem in the days of the temple cult, and that of the Greek diaspora when pagans freely mingled with Jews in synagogue communities.
"Paul writes in innocence of the future," Fredriksen says. "He’s writing not knowing the temple is going to be destroyed. If you look at the Gospels, all of them have their respective [versions of Jesus] speaking forthrightly about the destruction of the temple, which becomes an inflection point in later Christian anti-Jewish rhetoric.”
She adds, "when you are dealing with the Gospels, you are dealing with a type of literature that is putting daylight between itself and what was once traditional Judaism, which was when the temple was standing. Paul was the crucial piece of trying to reconstruct the first generation of the Christian movement."
Reviewers have praised the book for being accessible for general readers interested in learning more about Paul, as well as a scholarly work. Fredriksen says she hopes that the general reader will understand that the destruction of the temple had “a tremendous influence on the rest of the way that Christianity developed historically.”
“If you look at Paul in his own historical context, he has a very positive view of the temple and of traditional Jewish practices. If that is true of Paul, then that is also probably true of Jesus,” Fredriksen explains.