I've Moved!!!

See my new site at http://tomtesblog.tumblr.com!!!

The First Paul

| 25.5.10
The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

I've been a fan of Marcus Borg for a long time. What he did for Jesus in Jesus: A New Vision and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time Borg and Crossan apply to their study and analysis of Paul. By separating Paul's letters into three categories: genuine (radical), contested (conservative), and authored by others (reactionary) they are able to highlight the radically egalitarian, non-violent, and mystical vision of the body of Christ and the kingdom of God which Paul preached as a sharp contrast to then prevailing notions of the Roman Empire and its emperor.

Two things stood out for me in this book. First, I have always been a bit perplexed about how the same man who wrote "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28) could also write such passages as "Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22) or "Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed." (1 Timothy 6:1) Attempts to harmonize these kinds of passages with each other inevitably water down Paul's more radical statements of egalitarianism, transporting them off to some spiritual realm where they cannot impact real life. Another approach, to claim Paul as the first wily pragmatist who said one thing to one church and the opposite to another is also ultimately unsatisfying. Crossan and Borg's historical approach, which defines the earliest genuine strand of Paul writings as the most radical, with subsequent strands reflecting later accomodation to culture as Christianity became more widely accepted through the Roman Empire makes sense to me as a logical progression and evolution of a religious tradition even as it disturbs me at the same time.

My favorite part of the book, however, was Borg and Crossan's treatment of Jesus versus Ceasar and the Kingdom of God versus the Roman Empire. Drawing upon Roman historical writings from shortly before the birth of Jesus, they are convincingly able to show that many of the most important ways in which Paul and Christianity talk about Jesus (i.e., Jesus is Lord, Jesus' divine birth, Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus as the one who brings peace to the earth) would have immediately resonated with first century listeners as familiar language about the emperor! While not discounting the spiritual significance of these terms at all as they apply to Jesus, knowing their context viz. the god-king Caesar really awakened me to the political implications of Paul's writings, and also easily explains why the early apostles and followers of the Jesus movement were martyred by the Empire. Paul's writings were treason, threatening the legitimacy of the emperor. When Paul says "Jesus is Lord," that means Caesar is not.

One thing that I always appreciate about Marcus Borg is the clarity with which he explains difficult concepts. This book did not seem as clearly written as some of his others. I'm not sure if this can be blamed on John Dominic Crossan or is just part and parcel of a book that is written by more than one author. On the whole, however, I found it an enjoyable and illuminating read, even if the writing bogged down a bit in some sections. By placing Paul and his message in their first century contexts, Borg and Crossan are able to illuminate his radical message in a way that still speaks to us today.

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: HarperOne (March 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061430722
ISBN-13: 978-0061430725

I've Moved!!!

See my new site at http://tomtesblog.tumblr.com!!!